The Chicago Bulls hung close without their superstar – until the Thunder’s leading man closed them out.
Kevin Durant scored six of his 24 points – including the clinching Nowitzki-esque fadeaway with Luol Deng draped all over him – in the final minute of a 97-91 road win over the relentless, still-Derrick-Rose-less Chicago Bulls.
Joakim Noah led a swarm of arms and legs that swirled around the Thunder after every rebound. The game’s frenetic pace produced 43 total turnovers, which juxtaposed with surprisingly accurate shooting to create a bizarre viewing experience. Neither team ever seemed to seize control, and each shot about 50% from the field by regularly following five straight baskets with six consecutive misses.
The Thunder have proven that they can thrive in such a chaotic atmosphere, and their ability to do so tonight highlighted some interesting contrasts between this year’s team and previous editions.
Un-Harden-ed Arteries: The Thunder have a newfound ability to calm themselves in the midst of a storm, symbolized by the lineup transition from unorthodox slasher James Harden to unorthodox shooter Kevin Martin.
The Thunder’s new toy continued to delight the advanced-stats community by scoring 15 points on five field goal attempts, running a clinic on how to draw shooting fouls by lurching into unsuspecting defenders. He victimized Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer by reading their defensive posture and using slight changes of pace to sucker them into contact.
Calm as a Babbling (West)brook: Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has earned the ire of the blogosphere in the past and will do so again, but his game was especially schizophrenic tonight. If you stopped reading the box score after the first three lines, you’d see an all-too-familiar set of numbers next to Russell’s name: 36 MIN, 7-22 FG, 1-7 3PT.
If you started reading from the right, though, you’d get a whole different perspective, to the tune of 12 AST, 2 TO.
Watching the actual game would have impressed Westbrook’s detractors (and supporters) even more, as he saw passes that would have been invisible as recently as last season. One third-quarter sequence saw him find Durant for an open alley-oop layup off the same delayed pick-and-roll he’s executed seemingly once per game in 2012-13, then use the following possession to run a perfect 4-on-2 fast break to get trailer Thabo Sefalosha a layup.
Westbrook’s shot remains a Jekyll-Hyde situation (and he should be fined $5,000 every time he takes a catch-and-shoot three-pointer, a 20% proposition at best), but his floor game has vaulted a level in his fifth season.
Serge-ical Shooting: This blog has voiced much skepticism about Serge Ibaka’s allegedly proficient midrange jump shot, but there is no questioning that Ibaka’s stroke has looked smoother this season after a summer of working out with the Spanish national team.
There were three bad bricks from the left side of the floor (perhaps owing to a screwy right-to-left rotation on the ball from that angle), but some smooth makes from the top of the key and, incredibly, a catch-and-shoot corner three-pointer that looked straight out of Ray Allen’s instructional video.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.