Breaking Through: Thunder Races Ahead After Halftime - OKC 108, BKN 96
Wednesday night’s battle between the Thunder and Brooklyn Nets tipped off at 6:15 p.m. 53 real-world minutes into the game, the Thunder’s pace and speed weren’t quite into the game. That 54th minute came at 7:08 p.m., almost precisely the time of a normal week-night tip off at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
It was purely coincidence to be sure, but curiously it was in that 54th minute that the Thunder’s fastball arrived and for the remainder of the night, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club fired right on past the Nets.
In the final 6.7 seconds of the second quarter, the Thunder scored four quick points to cut a 14-point Brooklyn lead down to just 52-42 heading into halftime. The catalyst was the one you would expect, Russell Westbrook, who careened into the lane for a layup then after Terrance Ferguson stole the Nets’ quick inbounds pass and saved it, Westbrook attacked again and was goaltended. The sequence happened in a flash, but even that was a portent of what Brooklyn had to try to keep up with in the second half.
“It was big. There was momentum going into the half,” Westbrook recalled. “Got a steal, big time play to step up for Ferg (Terrance Ferguson) and close the half the right way."
Behind Westbrook’s combination of speed and smarts, the Thunder’s offense kicked into gear in the second half, scoring 66 points on 49 percent shooting with 15 assists compared to just 2 turnovers. In the first half, those numbers were flipped, just 42 points on 35.6 percent shooting (8-for-22 in the paint and 4-for-14 from midrange) with 10 turnovers as the Thunder was stuck taking tough, contested shots against a set Nets defense. Clogging the lane in both man-to-man and zone, Brooklyn was stifling until Westbrook and Donovan cracked the code.
“We opened up the third quarter and really took the game away, took the game over at that point,” said forward Paul George.
Against the zone, the Thunder flashed George into the middle of the floor on gut cuts and got secondary action off cuts from wings like rookie Deonte Burton, who was in the rotation for an injured Markieff Morris. Finding holes in the zone and continuing to put pressure on the rim helped the Thunder be more efficient, and also made rotations to the perimeter longer and more hesitant for Brooklyn. Driving, kicking, then driving again off of those closeouts was a key to busting up the zone.
“Russell, to be quite honest, just did a great job of getting in the slot and creating penetration, having to pull their center across, and we had a shooter on the back side, and they had to make a decision,” Donovan explained. “Are they going to take away the lob? Or are they going to take away the corner three?”
“That’s just how you attack a zone and get to the middle and try to get to the paint. We were able to do that,” explained George, who scored 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting to go with 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. “But it’s something you don’t see often. They caught us off guard for a second but we figured it out.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 14, 2019
In the fourth quarter, Westbrook was in complete control, silencing Brooklyn’s last run of the game with an absolute annihilation of the Nets’ defense in the final 10 minutes. Donovan called a timeout after the Nets went up 83-82 with 10:17 to go, and out of the stoppage the Thunder went on a 20-7 run.
At first just a slow burn, the momentum picked up after another Donovan timeout at 6:44, after which Westbrook attacked the right side of Brooklyn’s defense, drew center Jarrett Allen over from the weak side and lobbed alley-oops to Steven Adams for back-to-back buckets. Adams’ spacing along the baseline was much better than it was in the first half, leaving Allen in no man’s land against the Thunder’ downhill driver.
"(Just) trying to stay in attack mode and find ways to continue to get my teammates shots,” said Westbrook. “I thought I did a bad job in the first half and I found my guys in the second half. I made an adjustment."
One possession later, Westbrook found Jerami Grant for a three-pointer on the wing when the Nets caved in too hard on the paint. The mojo was going so good at that point, the energy so vibrant in Chesapeake Energy Arena that Westbrook himself launched a second chance three-pointer that splashed through. As Brooklyn called timeout, Westbrook turned to face the crowd, grinned and let out a little shimmy to let everyone know he was feeling it. From there it was academic, and the Thunder ran out the clock for win number 42 on the year.
As he has over the last 20 games, Westbrook again shot the ball well, going 12-for-23 and 4-for-8 from three on his way to a game-high 31 points to go with 12 rebounds, 11 assists and 3 steals for his 26th triple-double of the season and the 130th of his career.
The constant throughout most of the night for the Thunder was outstanding defense, with guards like Dennis Schröder hounding Brooklyn’s ballhandlers out on the perimeter. Thunder big men like Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel provided more and more resistance at the basket and on the boards as the game went along. In the second half, the Thunder held Brookyn to just 14-of-40 shooting, including just 5 makes on two-point shots, and 9 turnovers as it pummeled the Nets 66-44 over the final two quarters.
Above anything else, that defense-first character trait is what the Thunder wants to carry over into Thursday night in a back-to-back road clash against the Indiana Pacers.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 14, 2019