The Oklahoma City Thunder faced some tough challenges this week, but came out unscathed. They faced two of the best teams in the entire league, but demonstrated that they are a force to be reckoned with.
What Went Down
Thunder 105, Clippers 95 – Thursday, Nov. 21
The Oklahoma City Thunder kicked off this week with a bang, as they beat the Los Angeles Clippers in resounding fashion. The Clippers have given the Thunder before this season, beating them earlier this month. But this looked like a much-improved Thunder squad that easily handled their dynamic Western Conference rivals.
The real star for the Thunder was the team defense. They held the normally potent Clippers to just 41.3 percent shooting. Thabo Sefolosha held sharpshooter J.J. Redick to a 3-for-11 shooting effort and the team as a whole couldn’t get their shots to consistently fall. Blake Griffin led the scoring for the Clippers with 27 points, but they didn’t come easy. Serge Ibaka battled him all night and prevented him from getting anything easy around the rim. Ibaka’s three blocks went along with Steven Adams‘ three blocks off the bench, as they were able to give DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers frontcourt a taste of their own medicine.
Kevin Durant provided the offense for the Thunder, dropping 28 points on 10-for-19 shooting. The rest of the team followed his model of offensive efficiency, as the team as a whole shot 51.9 percent. Ibaka had an equally solid game on the other end of the floor, adding 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting while demonstrating some nice footwork in the process. Russell Westbrook had a classic-Russell game, with a blissfully aggressive 5-for-13 shooting effort. But he contributed help on the glass and held Chris Paul to only 17 points.
The rest of the team looked solid as well. Kendrick Perkins didn’t look as lost as he has in past games, with six points and four rebounds. And the backcourt duo of Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb outplayed the Clippers’ bench, with their strong defense and composure. This was an all-around team win against an excellent team. It’s games like this that make you wonder how far this Thunder team can go.
But the real highlight was the halftime entertainment. For the fifth time since the month of March, a fan hit a halfcourt shot, earning $20,000, and more importantly, a dap from Jay-Z.
Everything about that is awesome.
Thunder 95, Jazz 73 – Tuesday, Nov. 26
Scott Brooks gave the recently rehabilitated Russell Westbrook the night off this past Sunday for the Thunder’s affair with the Utah Jazz. It didn’t slow the Thunder down at all, as they demolished the historically horrible Jazz.
There’s not a lot to analyze about this game. The Jazz are 1-14 for very good reason and are making a very solid effort to tank to the top of next year’s draft. But the Thunder held the offensively emaciated Jazz to a mere 43 points through three quarters. I can’t remember another game like that where a team struggled so much offensively.
Serge Ibaka continued his strong week, dropping a 17-11 double-double on 8-for-13 shooting. Kevin Durant only added 19 points, but really didn’t need to do much more than that. Reggie Jackson started over the resting Russell Westbrook, and looked quite good. He added seven assists and only turned it over twice. Although fans must take the results of this game with a grain of salt, it’s nice to see Reggie Jackson run a team successfully.
Because this game wasn’t close from the start, the big three of Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and Perry Jones all played extended minutes. Lamb and Jones looked nice, putting up 15 and 13 respectively in what will certainly be a confidence booster for both. Although Adams only contributed three points, he cleaned the glass against a strong Utah frontcourt.
It’s a great sign that this game wasn’t close at all. The Thunder have cultivated the bad habit of letting bad teams hang around for too long, but not on Sunday. They kept the atrocious Utah Jazz down for the entire game, and didn’t let up. That’s what a contender has to do against the bottom tier of the league.
Thunder 94, Spurs 88 – Wednesday, Nov. 27
The Thunder celebrated Thanksgiving Eve in the best way possible, ending the San Antonio Spurs’ 11-game win streak in a very impressive victory.
The stars of this game for OKC were the bench. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb had the game we all were waiting for them to have, on the biggest stage possible. Jackson looked very efficient, adding 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting. To see Reggie play like that against one of the smartest teams in the league really inspired me that this bench could become a threat. Jeremy Lamb looked like the player I hoped he’d become. He hit 2 from behind the arc, and looked composed.
Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant continued their solid week, both with double-doubles. Ibaka also added 5 blocks, and set the tone for one of the best defensive efforts of the season so far. Obviously, the Thunder can shut down a team like Utah. But for that effort to carry over against San Antonio was an unexpected surprise.
On the other hand, Russell Westbrook didn’t look so hot. In fact, he looked pretty darn cold. On an iffy 2-for-16 shooting, he only scored six points, and seemed like he was forcing it. Luckily, he only turned the ball over twice, so his down game didn’t harm the Thunder too much. But it’s pleasantly surprising to see the team pull out such a big win against a great team without a strong Westbrook performance.
GIF of the Week
During the Clippers game, Steven Adams tried to be cordial to fellow big man Byron Mullens. But as you can see, Mullens wasn’t having it. But Adams didn’t let Mullens damper the spirit of sportsmanship. He completed the handshake himself, and if I’m being honest, Mullens looked jealous that he denied Adams of a wonderful shake.
Next week starts with a chance for revenge. The Oklahoma City Thunder square off against the Golden State Warriors at home on Friday and they won’t take kindly to the last-second defeat they suffered at the hands of the Warriors earlier this month. But the week doesn’t get much easier, as they host the Timberwolves and travel west to play a back-to-back in Sacramento and Portland. The Trail Blazers game will be a battle for the top of the Northwest Division and will be a hard-fought affair.