Thunder Stayed Locked In Against Hornets
There were three ties and four lead changes in the Thunder’s victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Monday night, but none of them occurred after the 7:54 mark in the first quarter when Kendrick Perkins hit a turn-around jumper to put the Thunder ahead for good. It was an admittedly workman-like effort and attitude for the Thunder to forget about its emotional, overtime victory on Sunday night against the Denver Nuggets and to focus in on its next task.
“They know,” Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “We’ve talked about it since I have taken over. You always have a job to do every night. This is not a league where you can take nights off. If you do you will get beat. It’s hard enough to win in this league when you play hard; you have to play well to win. We have 66 games and everyone has to have our best foot forward and play for each other, and I thought tonight was good. ”
The energy was there from the opening tip, whether it was Kendrick Perkins swatting away shots or Russell Westbrook flying across the perimeter to deflect an opposing pass out of bounds. To be that locked-in from the get-go takes a high level of concentration on the part of this young Thunder team. It took even more resilience and determination to jump out on the Hornets knowing the team didn’t have the services of Nick Collison and James Harden, who both sat out with injuries.
As a result, Brooks changed the rotations up a bit, taking Kevin Durant out with four minutes remaining in the first quarter and then playing him for the entire second quarter. It was an interesting dynamic because Durant typically plays the entire first quarter, then comes back into the game at the eight-minute mark in the second quarter. With last night’s rotation, Durant saw some extra time with the second unit, and witnessed first-hand how much of an impact the reserves can have on the game.
“It was big,” Durant said. “I think Cole (Aldrich) and Royal (Ivey) played well, also Reggie (Jackson). I played with the second group as well, I just got the feel for everything and tried not to do that much. I think they did a great job of playing together and playing hard.”
Ivey has continued to get extra minutes with the absence of Thabo Sefolosha and Eric Maynor from the lineup, and with Collison out last night it was a perfect opportunity for the Brooks to utilize Aldrich in some extended minutes. Hitting two 3-pointers and playing his typical high-intensity defense was a solid contribution from Ivey in his 21 minutes, while Aldrich had four points, three rebounds and a blocked shot in his 19 minutes of action, while helping contain the Hornets to a meager 37 percent shooting in the paint.
“It is always fun to get out there,” Aldrich said. “Just continue to work and continue to learn. Learning from Perk (Kendrick Perkins) and Nick (Collison) has helped me so much. I have got a long way to go but I do my best to help the team be successful.”
While the Thunder let the Hornets make it a closer game than necessary down the stretch and recognized its need to put games away earlier, the overall attention to detail and execution was on hand for the Thunder throughout the night. While not every good look fell for them, Brooks’ players did their jobs and gave a quality showing to the fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena who were loud for the second straight night.
“I thought we played pretty good offensively,” Brooks said. “We missed some shots that hopefully we will be able to hit, but they were good looks. It was a good win for us. The guys came in after last night and played basketball. The first half we were up by a pretty good number and I thought overall there were a lot of good things to take out of this game.”