11 Blocked shots by the Thunder, including eight by the starting lineup
13 Rebounds for Serge Ibaka to go with 18 points and three blocks
17-10 The Thunder’s advantage in fast break points
24 Points for the Thunder off of 16 Pelicans turnovers
29 Points for Kevin Durant on 11-for-17 shooting
48-38 Points in the paint edge in the Thunder’s favor
51-38 Shooting percentage advantage for the Thunder
Dec. 6th, 2013
NEW ORLEANS – It’s not always a big burst that gets the job done in an NBA game, but rather the steady burn of a hot, cohesive defensive that stifles an opponent possession after possession.
In a 109-95 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, the Thunder’s defense held its opponents to just 37.5 percent shooting throughout the night, including a brutal 3-for-16 shooting night from the three-point line. It was a back-and-forth game throughout the first half, but starting in the third quarter when the Thunder held New Orleans to just 16 points, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club consistently got stops for the rest of the evening.
By forcing New Orleans into difficult shots late in the shot clock that resulted in missed shots, every lineup combination Brooks threw on the floor performed up to the Thunder’s standards.
“I felt that in the third quarter, that first group (of ours) did an excellent job of continuing to establish a really good defensive tone and got some separation in the game,” Fisher said. “It was never really a home run type of situation. It was just methodically getting a defensive stop. In that fourth quarter, I thought that it was important that the group that was out there, we did the same thing.”
The energy on the defensive end was led by Serge Ibaka, who was active in the paint all night. The Thunder forward racked up 13 rebounds to go with three blocks and 17 points, and it was the way he helped deter shots at the rim that changed the game. The Pelicans shot just 19-for-46 in the lane, a sign of a team whose shots were altered because of the Thunder’s long, athletic players were making an impact. Ibaka’s overall effort was similar to those he’s had throughout the season, as he racked up yet another double-double while continuing to block shots.
“We challenge Serge Ibaka to play consistent every night,” Brooks said. “So now we expect him to play with that kind of consistency night in and night out. I thought he played great on both sides of the ball tonight. Overall we had a good night on both sides of the ball.”
“When you play against an aggressive team like them, you need to be focused on protecting the basket,” Ibaka said. “As a team, we did a great job to go contest the shot and make them shoot some tough shots.”
Aiding Ibaka on the offensive end was Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who combined for 54 points on just 33 shots. All night that duo was aggressive at both attacking the basket and then finding shots for themselves and others. When the second unit came in, it was Reggie Jackson who took the reins, scoring 15 points and dishing out four assists.
The factor that allowed the Thunder to shoot 50.6 percent from the field on the night, however, was the way its defense translated into easy offense. Brooks’ club scored 25 points off of 16 New Orleans turnovers, getting out into transition for 17 fast break points. Westbrook, Jackson and Durant combined for eight of the Thunder’s nine assists, while the entire Thunder squad made 11 blocks, but it was the way the Thunder forced the Pelicans to operate late in the shot clock was the most encouraging sign.
When opponents have to race against the clock to get a shot up, it causes forced passes and miscues, which lends itself to easy chances for the Thunder.
“It speeds them up a little bit when they see five or six seconds left on the shot clock,” Durant explained. “You have to make a quick move and I think that’s what all defensive teams want, is for teams to make quick decisions. Once you do that, you have to contest and rebound.”
“We were talking,” Durant continued. “We played hard. We bumped them up and were physical and that’s what we need to be.”
The game turned right around halftime, when Russell Westbrook got a two-for-one opportunity for his team, which propelled them to a quick 9-0 burst that spanned halftime. The game was tied at 52-52 with 34.2 seconds remaining in the half, giving Westbrook the perfect opportunity to execute the Thunder’s chance to get two of the last three final possessions of the half.
Westbrook’s 26-foot three-pointer went through and after the Thunder forced a Jrue Holiday missed three-pointer, Kevin Durant dropped off a pass to Reggie Jackson, who drained another three-pointer with 2.7 seconds remaining in the half. Coming out of halftime, Thabo Sefolosha made a block and then Kendrick Perkins found Durant, who knocked down a three of his own, making it 61-52 Thunder, just like that.
“It worked out for us, we got two threes out of it and they got nothing out of it,” Westbrook said. “Instead of it being a one-point game, it turned into a six-seven point game.”
“You have to find the best shot,” Westbrook continued. “If you’re not too far behind the three-point line shooting, it’s a good shot for us.”
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, FIRST HALF:
Beautiful opening possession with multiple passes ends in a Kevin Durant jumper along the wing. Strong work on the offensive glass by Serge Ibaka to fight off his man and tip out an offensive rebound. Great screen by Perkins at the top of the key frees Russell Westbrook for an easy drive to the bucket. Reggie Jackson fronts the post on defense against a much bigger opponent and forces a turnover.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, SECOND HALF:
Durant smartly anticipates a lob pass on defense and knocks it away, creating a Thunder fast break. Nice play by Jeremy Lamb to use his left hand in the lane in order to prevent his shot from getting blocked. Incredible hustle by Nick Collison under the bucket to chase down a loose rebound on the offensive end, drawing a foul. Westbrook stays alert and slaps the ball away on a pass at the wing to disrupt a possession.
“It was anybody’s ball game headed into halftime. We had to come out in the second half with a better defense stand, and I thought we played great defense. I liked our effort throughout the game. Everyone gave a good defensive effort. Their speed was hard to contain but we did a good job tonight.” – Head Coach Scott Brooks