7 Assists for Russell Westbrook in addition to 24 points and five rebounds
8 Blocked shots for Serge Ibaka, a season-high, in addition to 16 points and 10 rebounds for his 27th double-double of the season
24 Points for the Thunder off of 15 New Orleans turnovers
27 Points for Kevin Durant in addition to six rebounds and five assists
28 Assists for the Thunder, including eight by Reggie Jackson, compared to just 11 turnovers.
45 Bench points for the Thunder, including at least four from seven different players
56-38 The Thunder’s advantage in points in the paint tonight, where it held New Orleans to just 19-for-45 shooting
April 11th, 2014
The ball squirted out towards half court, and New Orleans Pelicans guard Austin Rivers grabbed it, heading towards a fast break layup. Serge Ibaka, however, had other plans. Putting his head down and racing in a bee-line straight for the rim, Ibaka met Rivers at the bucket, swatting his would-be dunk.
Those plays typified the Thunder’s 116-94 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, as Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team repeatedly saw all green lights in transition, while the Pelicans were greeted with stop signs. The tell-tale statistic of the game was the Thunder’s whopping 28-0 advantage in fast break points on the night, where it shot 12-for-15 and held New Orleans to 0-for-3 shooting. Those fast break chances led to the Thunder’s 53.7 percent shooting compared to just 40.7 percent for the Pelicans from the field.
“We definitely want to get some easy baskets and that’s the easiest way to do it, get stops and run-outs,” forward Kevin Durant said. “Guys are running for each other, getting other people shots and sacrificing, putting their bodies on the line in transition, running into crowds to get everybody else open on the wings. Our point guards did a great job of pushing the ball.”
“Everybody is running,” guard Russell Westbrook said. “They know that once we get the ball and we get an opportunity to get turnovers or blocked shots, it’s a great opportunity to run the floor.”
A pivotal member of the Thunder’s defense is Thabo Sefolosha, whose return to the starting lineup has already showed its benefits in the three games since he’s been back from injury. In the halfcourt, Sefolosha fights through screens in the pick-and-roll, talks out coverages and contests every jumper on the perimeter.
In transition, however, Sefolosha has been even more effective. As he backpedals or runs down court, Sefolosha is seemingly the quarterback of the Thunder’s fast break defense, calling out to teammates and directing traffic with hand signals to ensure that every oncoming opponent is accounted for and covered.
“For us, it’s mostly not turning the ball over and taking good shots,” Sefolosha explained. “That leads to good floor balance going back on the defensive end. Other than that, it’s just communication. Me being out for a quite a little bit, I saw things from the bench and just try to do my best get a win and keep improving.”
“He can guard multiple players,” Brooks explained. “He sees the offense coming at him and he knows who is guarding who. He’s a smart player and a defensive-minded guy who has a lot of experience.”
While the Thunder’s defensive possessions were made significantly easier by preventing New Orleans from getting easy looks in the open court, much of the credit is due to another crisp and efficient offensive performance. Brooks’ club racked up 28 assists compared to just 11 turnovers, with Reggie Jackson, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combining for 20 assists between the three of them. Durant finished with 27 points, Westbrook had 24 and Jackson 11, and the trio only combined for three turnovers all night.
“Taking care of the basketball is a priority every game,” Brooks said. “We’ve been doing a very good job with that the last few games. We just have to continue to execute with some good pace and precision in our routes and make the easy, simple pass.”
Filling in the blanks on both ends of the floor all night for the Thunder was Ibaka, whose presence on the floor was beyond palpable. It was in the air all night when he stalked the paint on defense, cruised down court in transition or roamed the elbows for jump shot opportunities in the Thunder’s halfcourt sets. The rangy forward tallied his 27th double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds, not to mention a season-high eight blocked shots.
“Serge was spectacular,” Brooks said. “He’s right there with the best defensive players in the league. He’s right there with the defensive player of the year. Blocked shots, he had eight tonight, but he altered probably ten others. And that’s what makes our defense good, when everybody is participating. When we do have a break down, he’s out there backing everybody up and covering for everybody’s mistakes.”
The Thunder led by a score of 30-25 with 11:07 remaining in the second quarter, but over a four minute span, it turned that five point edge into a 17-point lead thanks to a 14-2 run. The burst started on a Nick Collison jumper, then continued with a Caron Butler wing-post up and jump shot. Collison then finished a reverse layup and knocked down a foul shot to go with it before Reggie Jackson drove for a reverse layup.
Coming out of a timeout the Pelicans got two free throws, but Jackson hit a step-back jumper in the short corner and then found Derek Fisher for a three-pointer to make it 44-27 with 6:55 remaining in the half. The Thunder’s second unit did all of the damage on both ends, as it forced New Orleans into five missed shots and two turnovers.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, FIRST HALF:
Strong ball pressure by Russell Westbrook forces his man into an errant pass, then more of the same on the next possession to force a shot clock violation. Kendrick Perkins hustles out to the baseline to save a ball inbounds. Aggressive pick-and-roll coverage by the Thunder to force a traveling violation. Caron Butler slaps a ball away and then saves it back inbounds to regain possession. Great teamwork by the Thunder’s second unit as four different players fought for a loose ball.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, SECOND HALF:
Good helpside coverage on a pick-and-roll by Serge Ibaka to force the roller to fumble the ball. Strong defense by Kevin Durant to prevent his man from getting a shot off before the shot clock expired. Ibaka hustles back in transition defense to save a sure dunk with a huge block, leading to a Thunder transition opportunity. Ibaka’s pick-and-roll defense prevents an easy look at the rim and forces another shot clock violation.
“The energy was high, thanks to the crowd also. We did what we’re supposed to do, playing together defensively and offensively.” - guard Thabo Sefolosha