Did anyone think that the Thunder could go into the Oracle Arena – home of the team with the NBA’s best record – and win by a decisive margin? Oklahoma City defeated the Warriors by a final score of 127-115 behind 36 points from the reigning league MVP Kevin Durant. Can this cause a shift of momentum for OKC?
This was one of those games where everything seemed to come together for the Thunder. While trade rumors continue to swirl around the team, the great players who know they’re not in danger of going anywhere have to allow their games to transcend all the distractions and focus on the long-term goals.
Serge Ibaka has so much to prove with regard to the decision the Oklahoma City front office made in choosing him over James Harden a few seasons ago. The team pretty much decided that their future was brighter with their 28th overall pick in the 2008 draft.
After the Finals loss in 2012, where the Thunder were essentially devoid of Harden because of his abominable performance, this decision didn’t look so foolish. But now Harden is among the leaders in the MVP discussion this season, and recently torched his former team with 31 points and 10 assists en route to a 112-101 victory for his Rockets.
Ibaka’s game hasn’t matured as quickly as we all thought it would, but there’s no reason to lose hope just yet. He has definitely increased his range, which helps space the floor for guys like Durant and Westbrook. Serge is shooting a career-best 41% from downtown (In his rookie year, his percentage was 50, but only had two attempts).
The Thunder need more post presence offensively from Ibaka. On the season, he’s averaging 3.3 shot attempts from within five feet or less of the basket – on 60% shooting. For a team with championship aspirations, this is NOT enough.
Jump shooting teams aren’t winning titles unless they have big men who can’t create easier shots. Whether its posting up or just simply attacking the basket, you have to keep the defense on their toes to free up shooters.
I’ve often been critical of GM Sam Presti for his inability to provide his stars with an adequate amount of help on their roster. But according to reports, they have inquired about Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets. He would provide a much-needed interior presence for Oklahoma City – someone who can post and pick-and-pop. If he can pull this move off, advantage Thunder.
The biggest question surrounding Lopez would be health and rebounding. But if you’re looking at best-case scenario, this addition might be just enough to put them over the top.
If you watched the game against the Warriors, you saw just how dominant Russell Westbrook can be. He might be one of the most athletic point-guards we’ve ever seen. Every single possession Westbrook attacks and attacks and attacks. He has that killer instinct that enables his team to be successful more often than not.
He totaled 17 points, 17 assists, and 15 rebounds for his first triple-double of the season. No one in the NBA can stop him but himself. Westbrook is certainly capable of having these monstrous games, but the key to it is playing with controlled aggression. Turnovers and erratic untimely shots are what plagued him in the past.
Ibaka added a career-high 27 points in this victory as well on an efficient 12-18 shooting, while KD scored his 36 points on 14-18 from the field. The team shot 52% from the floor.
The pressure is still on Presti to add depth to this team, but so far he has done a commendable job. He’s added scoring threats like Anthony Morrow and Dion Waiters, while still holding on to valuable tradable assets (Kendrick Perkins’ expiring contract, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb). But in the end, the pressure will be on the players to perform and on Scott Brooks to put his team in the best position to win games.
They can’t worry about players who aren’t currently on the roster. The time to win is now. As of today, the Thunder sit 3.5 games back of the Suns for the final playoff spot. If this team can stay healthy and continue to put on performances like they did yesterday, we might see as dangerous of an eighth seed as we have ever seen.