The Thunder edged the Hornets
The pattern continues in New Orleans, as the Hornets fell behind by double digits – twice – and then stormed back in the fourth to make it competitive. Tonight, the game went in favor of OKC, who did everything well but hold onto the ball.
Key stat of the night: OKC went 15-30 from midrange(10-23 feet) shooting a good 12% better than their average from there. The Hornets went 7-24, or 12% worse than their average. The biggest shot of the game, by Russell Westbrook, was a jumpshot from about 17 feet, where he is only shooting 32% for the season. The Hornets got OKC to take the shot they wanted. Credit Westbrook for sticking it anyways.
Lil’ Buckets combined with James Posey as the engine propelling the big comeback in the fourth. He did take a few shots that made me groan, but he also repeatedly attacked the basket, putting the onus on the Thunder to stop him. When he went out after a hard fall, the Hornets lost the only guy on the court who could generate shots for himself. He tried gamely to keep playing, but the way he moved reminded me of a 90-year old backing up to a couch to sit down – gingerly edging backwards, with his arms held away from his body for instant action in case something unexpected happened. Up to that point, he had gone for 22 points on 18 shots, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, a steal, and no turnovers. He’d also done a very good job on James Harden.
West started out the game aggressive, punishing Jeff Green in the first half. In the second, the Thunder were doubling a little faster and using Ibaka or Collison to check him and he became largely ineffectual, taking some weak long bombs. He also was completely unable to help Collison on high screens guarding Westbrook.
That put West in an unfamiliar place in the fourth: on the bench the entire quarter. As I’ve said so many times before, against athletic teams, Bower feels he has to decide if he wants to keep Okafor or West in at center next to Songaila, who will move his feet on high screens. Tonight, for the first time, he determined Okafor was being more effective. I’m not upset by the choice – but I do disagree a bit. David West does amp up his effort in the fourth quarter, particularly defensively.
Of course, that begs the question why he can be so lackadaisical defensively during the first three quarters.
- I gotta say I was rather irritated by the Thunder announcers when they were complaining about how Chris Paul got the Western Conference Player of the month over Kevin Durant. They just couldn’t believe it. Paul went for 21 points, 12 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2.4 steals and his team went 12-5. Durant went for 32, 3, 8, 1.1 and his team went 8-7. I would think the last number in each of those lines may have swayed some people.
- Collison gamely tried to defend Westbrook, and I think did a decent job on him. Sounds lame because of the 27, 8 and 10 Westbrook dropped, but I thought Collison stayed in front of him pretty well and sent him where he needed to. On the other end of the court, Westbrook gave Collison trouble, particularly when he got into the paint. Westbrook would swoop in from behind and snuff or change shots, and Collison turned the ball over a lot in places where usually he gets a decent look or a dump off to Okafor.
- Peja Stojakovic got smoked a lot by Durant on crossovers and drives. He tried to make up for it with fast hands, generating 4 steals and about 3 other pokeaways. I was happy with his effort. He was giving it his all, it just isn’t always enough at this point.
- Songaila is useful if two things are happening: He’s knocking down the mid-range shot, and he’s defending the pick and roll. He HAS to be accomplishing both those things in my book for them to make up for his abysmal work on the boards. Tonight, he wasn’t hitting his shot, and it hurt. I’m not sure who you play in stead of him and keep the defense solid. Julian Wright maybe? And hope Wright doesn’t trip over the ball on a fastbreak?
- Collison was smothering Eric Maynor in the second quarter, pressuring him the whole length of the court and making him work, work work. I was gleeful until Maynor returned the favor in the second half, and Collison immediately turned the ball over and had trouble handling it.
- An interesting stat: The Hornets assisted each other on 73.2% of their baskets. There was quite a bit of movement out there – but that number was inflated by the 18 turnovers OKC had and the fastbreaks the Hornets got as a result.
- Peterson looked good for the 8 minutes he played. I’m not sure I’d have trusted that either if I was Jeff Bower.
Next game is Friday against the imploding Sixers. I like to dream of scenarios where the apparently available Andre Igoudala or Thaddeus Young end up in New Orleans. Of course, the Hornets have no expiring contracts, so that’s not happening, but I can still dream, right?