Something the Oklahoma City Thunder has not had since Russell Westbrook went down is balance. Kevin Durant has carried the load, until tonight in their 119-96 thrashing of the Boston Celtics. Durant was effective with 21 points, and he only took 13 shots — making six. Five Thunder players scored in double-figures and a few more added six points or more. This is what Thunder fans were used to seeing prior to Westbrook’s third surgery. When the team is working together, they are at their best.
OCK has struggled on both ends of the floor in their last few games. That was not the case tonight. They played excellent basketball on both the offensive end the defensive side. Something I have noticed lately is that Kendrick Perkins has been a lot more active. I think he may have realized early on that his job was in jeopardy. Steven Adams was making a strong case to become the starting center, and I think that was exactly what Perkins needed. The controversy sparked a fire under him, and it trickled down to the entire roster. When you see Perkins out there hustling, it just makes those guys want to work harder. I could not be happier for Perk at this point. He put up a season-high 12 points and grabbed six rebounds tonight.
For the first time in a long time, the player of the game for OKC was not named Durant or Westbrook. Reggie Jackson dazzled, scoring a career-high 27 points. You got the feeling that he would eventually get it going, after a few subpar performances. His role is essential in the Thunder’s blueprint — with or without Westbrook on the court. When Jackson plays at a high level, this team just launches itself into a new dimension. His playmaking ability is incredible at such an early stage of his career.
Jeremy Lamb also provided a spark off the bench, finishing the game with 13 points and six assists. The Thunder is going to rely on him more and more if he continues to shine now that his role has become heavier. Early on in the year, he would settle for jumpers, even though he maintained nice shooting percentages. Now, he’s looking to drive to the basket more, putting more pressure on teams to account for him; even when Durant and Jackson are rolling.
Serge Ibaka came through as well. He had 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. I cannot stress enough the importance of him playing well if the Thunder is going to maintain a respectable record while Westbrook recovers. One game, he’s outstanding as a third scorer and the next he’s seeing limited minutes due to minimal production. I expect him to be more consistent as games become more precious.
The Thunder is on the road for their next two games. They will see the Utah Jazz before their game on TNT this Thursday against the Denver Nuggets. Now that they have restored some confidence within themselves, they should slowly begin to improve from here on out. Still, they will hit some bumps in the road, because you can’t ask everyone to do too much. You expect to slip a little when you lose a player of Westbrook’s caliber. Slowly improving just consists of finding ways to be play together through the bad times. Their biggest fault right now is team chemistry. It will take a little time to work in their togetherness, but I love what I saw from this team tonight. It says a lot about their will to win and their growth as a unit.