Slicing through knots

The Nets have done well in Chesapeake Arena of late: the last time the Nets lost in this building, they went home to New Jersey. The move notwithstanding, they definitely came to compete tonight. With 8:10 left, they’d forged a tie at 85; at this point, Billy Donovan shifted to small-ball, and the Thunder, in the next two minutes, ran off nine points in a row to reestablish something resembling control. Brook Lopez did his best to keep Brooklyn in it, scoring a team-high 26, and rookie guard Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, about whom someone should write a doo-wop melody, rang up a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds), but the Thunder prevailed, 110-99.

Mostly, it was a question of offensive efficiency: OKC made 41 of 78 shots (53 percent), Brooklyn 43 of 94 (46 percent). Defensively, it was more of a wash: the Nets got more rebounds (45-42, 11-4 off the offensive glass). But what doomed the Nets, I think, was the fact that they couldn’t get any production from Joe Johnson, who was hectored all night by Andre Roberson; Johnson was held to five points, all in the second half, on 2-11 shooting. The Thunder hero list contains the usual names: thirty from Kevin Durant, 27 (and 13 assists) from Russell Westbrook, 16 from Dion Waiters, and 12 (and 8 boards) from Serge Ibaka. Still, there were some troublesome moments: missing seven of eight shots to open the fourth quarter can in no wise be considered a Good Thing, and when radio guy Matt Pinto says “defensive lapse,” he’s not kidding; somebody was just standing there.

So win number 10 comes in game 16. It could be worse. And the opposition for the next three games gets stiffer: the Pistons on Friday, and then on the road to Atlanta and Miami. Let us give thanks that KD has not relapsed, and let us hope that the Pistons have safe flights in and out: we’re about to have some genuinely crappy weather, winter variety.


Bebopped into submission

It’s a full(ish) moon, but I think more likely what affected this game was the return (yes!) of Kevin Durant, who came out doing very Kevin Durant-like things. The Jazz stayed close through a quarter or so, but OKC opened up in the second, outscoring Utah 40-26, and the Thunder maintained a 20-point lead, or close to it, the rest of the night. “Offensively challenged,” suggested radio guy Matt Pinto, and indeed the Jazz had trouble knocking down shots. The Utah defense, however, showed signs of stoutness, winning the rebound battle by five; the Thunder ended up just shooting over them. (Seriously. OKC made 11 of 27 treys, six of them from the reserve wingmen, Anthony Morrow and D. J. Augustin.) Downside for the Thunder: losing Mitch McGary to an ankle ailment in the last 100 seconds, giving up a 12-0 run to the Jazz in the waning moments, and letting the Jazz get 40 foul shots. Then again, they missed 12 of those freebies. The final was 111-89, the first time OKC has won in Salt Lake City since late 2013.

Batman and Robin, together again, were appropriately dangerous, KD collecting 27 points and Russell Westbrook turning in a 20-7-9. Once again, the Thunder reserves got busy, contributing 44 points to the cause. Only one oddity jumps out of the box score: Durant played 30:10, while Gordon Hayward, who had a team-high 19 for the Jazz, played — 30:10. At least we knew who was guarding whom, right?

Next opponents come from the East: Brooklyn on Wednesday and Detroit on Friday at the ‘Peake, followed by road games at Atlanta and Miami. I think right now what most people are thinking is “Please don’t let anything happen to KD.” Whether KD himself is thinking that, I couldn’t tell you.


Going unDirked

Through the first 44 minutes or so, Dirk Nowitzki had taken only five shots, making three. And then he made two in a row, evading Serge Ibaka’s AutoSwat technique, and suddenly the Mavericks were up four and seemingly in command. This could not be allowed to stand, and for once it didn’t: the Thunder went on a 9-0 run to go up five. Dallas responded with a quick five to tie it, and things went back and forth until the 24-second mark, when a Russell Westbrook pullup jumper pushed OKC to 117-114. Deron Williams had a good look, but not a great one, and Westbrook took the ball away; the Mavs got a couple more chances, everyone knew that Dallas was going for the trey in those waning moments, and the Thunder, which hadn’t defended the trey well recently — the Mavs made 10 of 19 tonight — seemed to remember how perimeter defense worked. It may not have mattered: Wesley Matthews’ final attempt didn’t come within four feet of the cylinder, and at the horn Westbrook took that ball away to secure the win.

All five Dallas starters scored in double figures, with Zaza Pachulia collecting 10 rebounds; Pachulia, unfortunately for the Mavs, bricked three of four free throws late in the fourth. (Perhaps in sympathy, Steven Adams whiffed two of his own.) And Dirk, 5 of 7 after 44 minutes, didn’t get any more shots; Deron Williams led the scoring with 20.

“We move the ball,” remarked Dion Waiters, “we’re a dangerous thing.” Waiters, who started at the two, knew the drill: he had five points in that 9-0 run, which included a couple of Westbrook assists. Russell finished with 31, eleven dimes, and five steals. It was nice to see Ibaka score again: 8-15 for 16 points. And the Thunder bench, often underachieving earlier in the season, contributed 43 points tonight.

Maybe there’s enough Mojo Reserve now to face the Jazz tomorrow. One can only hope.


School of Hard Knicks

Nobody expects the New York Knicks. Their chief weapon is surprise: how does such a motley-looking bunch, airily dismissed as Carmelo Anthony and however many dwarfs, manage to be so totally dominant for forty-seven minutes? Well, there’s defense, of which they had an abundance — for almost the entire night the Thunder shot well under 40 percent — and there’s offense, of which they had more than enough, what with knocking down 12 of 20 three-pointers. New York led by as many as 16 early in the fourth quarter; Oklahoma City whittled that lead down to four with a minute left, to three with 12 seconds left, and two trey attempts on the last possession failed, giving the Knicks the win, 93-90.

Then again, the failure of trey attempts is at the very heart of this loss: the Thunder put up 29 three-pointers, and 26 missed. Ten and a fraction percent. Somehow this managed to eclipse dominant positions on the boards (49-36) and in the paint (52-16). A 34-point night from Russell Westbrook and a double-double from Enes Kanter (11 points, 13 boards) went more or less for naught. Meanwhile, Melo played like Melo, José Calderón showed signs of life, and if Robin Lopez made just the one shot from the floor — well, he hasn’t missed a free throw all season.

Billy Donovan continues to mix up the lineup. Tonight he started Dion Waiters on the wing and shuffled Andre Roberson to the frontcourt; Waiters, after a slow beginning, managed to serve up 15 points, while Roberson had two points and four fouls. This apparently is not the Durant-less solution he was looking for, and there’s no indication KD will be back Sunday to play the Mavericks, or Monday to take on the Jazz. Meanwhile, this comment from the field:

Yep. Wouldn’t doubt it for a minute.


Forget the script

This was supposed to be the most winnable game in this three-game homestand. Not only are the Pelicans doing relatively badly — 1-10 coming in, and 30th out of 30 in defense — but their ranks have been decimated and then some: Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Quincy Pondexter, Norris Cole and Kendrick Perkins are nursing injuries, and Omer Asik was quite ill with something flu-ish. With nine players, Alvin Gentry had basically one option: swap ’em in and out as needed and hope the roof doesn’t fall in. Well, either that last-place defense is better than it looks, or the Thunder are suffering from occasionally forgetting how to score. The Birds were up 27-21 after a quarter, and the 32-18 drubbing they got in the second didn’t daunt them in the least: twice they got within three in the fourth, and in between times, Perkins and the similarly sidelined Kevin Durant talked smack to one another. Oklahoma City eventually prevailed over New Orleans, 110-103, but no one is going to call it pretty.

There was some noise early on about fouls being called on the Pelicans and not on the Thunder, and maybe there’s something to that: New Orleans attempted only nine free throws all night. (Then again, they made them all. The Thunder were, um, 26 of 38 from the stripe.) Ryan Anderson, the one real Pelican shooter, had a Westbrookesque line: 30 points on 13-24, four of nine treys. The only problem with that was that Russell Westbrook doesn’t bother with mere Westbrookesque lines anymore: Number Zero scored 43 on 14-25 and 15 free throws. He needed all of that, too: Ish Smith, his counterpart on the Pelicans, rolled up 18 points mostly by zoom-zooming past everyone else, just the way Westbrook does. And Enes Kanter, almost a passable defender these days, dropped in 24 while retrieving 14 boards, sort of compensating for off nights by Serge Ibaka (2-11, six points) and Dion Waiters (2-10, four points). At least somebody on this squad can score.

The Knicks will be here Friday, and by all accounts, they are much improved over last year’s woeful aggregation: even Derek Fisher seems pleased. Of course, we all love Derek, as we all love Perk; but still we have to beat the socks off of him.


Finely ground

Ah, Memphis, where struggling basketball teams go to die — but first, they get tortured to within an inch of their lives. And on this particular night, they did it three points at a time (12 of 17 from three-point distance) or one point at a time (34 of 37 free throws). Tasked with interfering with this fusillade, the Thunder spent much of the game in the wrong place at the wrong time: either they let someone, usually Mario Chalmers, knock down a trey, or they let someone, usually Mario Chalmers, collect a couple of freebies. Still, through three quarters it was fairly close, with OKC up by one before what Judge Radar calls “12 Minutes of Hell.” Memphis ran up an 11-point lead before the Thunder again showed signs of life; OKC was able to pull within three, but no closer than that, and the final was a startling 122-114.

Okay, maybe Zach Randolph isn’t quite as fast as he was in days of yore. Still, Z-Bo collected 10 rebounds and 10 points — and he was only the fifth-leading scorer among the Griz. (The aforementioned Mario Chalmers scored a team-high 29, including four of seven treys.) And you have to figure, any day you give up 122 to the Grizzlies, you’re screwed no matter how many statistical categories you might dominate; the Thunder shot 51 percent, outrebounded the Griz by ten, and didn’t do too badly from distance. No matter. Russell Westbrook had the sort of night that only Russell Westbrook seems to have these days: 40 points, 14 rebounds. Still no matter. Perhaps we can put the blame on Kyle Singler, who started in place of the still-recovering Kevin Durant: in eleven minutes, Singler missed four shots and committed four fouls. And Andre Roberson was ailing; Anthony Morrow started at the two, and hit one shot all night. So maybe — no, no excuses, this is the first time all season the Griz beat someone with a winning record. It will not be the last.

The Pelicans are next, on Wednesday, followed by the Knicks on Friday. So far this year, New Orleans has been unexpectedly terrible; New York, unexpectedly not terrible. At least there will be a home crowd for the Thunder.


A cold blast from Beantown

It began like most nights in the ‘Peake, with Oklahoma City reasonably, if not comfortably, in control. Things began to shift late in the third quarter, when the Celtics switched to a 2-3 zone, catching the Thunder off guard. In fact, OKC was off several things thereafter: what had been an 11-point lead shrank to two at the end of the third, and Boston totally took it over after that, taking a 13-point lead within five and a half minutes. Stunned, the Thunder never completely recovered. It may be simply that the Celtics were getting better looks, but as radio guy Matt Pinto observed, the Celtics up to that point “just wanted it more.” Thunder velleity would not, alas, change the path of the ball, and OKC made only two of its last 17 shots from the floor, giving the Celtics a surprisingly easy 100-85 victory, and Russell Westbrook, disgusted at being pulled for garbage time, managed to pick up a technical foul between the court and the bench.

Boston’s superiority in the standard statistical categories was startling: 46-34 rebounding, 48-36 percent shooting, 25-18 assists. (Turnovers, curiously, were tied at 18.) But games are more than numbers, and the Celtics’ twin guard attack, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart, knocked down 46 points between them. Or you could look at the Thunder numbers and see Westbrook with a game-high 27, though it took him 20 shots to get there, and Serge Ibaka as the only other OKC player in double figures, and you might ask where the running game was. Three — count ’em, three — fast-break points.

If you ask me, the Thunder was thinking ahead to tomorrow night in Memphis; the Grizzlies, even under .500 so far, can still wear you down. And presented with this evidence that the mighty Thunder can be had by a small team with less-than-tremendous speed, the Griz, a bigger team with a few guys who move like crazy, will be very much heartened. Not what I’d call a good sign.


Youngsters dispatched

The man behind Daily Thunder asked this last night:

The Sixers got off to a 24-18 first-quarter lead over the temporarily (we hope) Durant-less Thunder, and maybe Young got a little antsy. (Anthony Morrow got the start in KD’s place.) Eventually OKC righted itself, led by five at the half, and blew it open after that. There wasn’t quite as much offense as the home crowd was used to seeing — mostly, the Thunder shot below 40 percent — but there was pretty fair defense: Serge Ibaka blocked seven shots, and Philadelphia came up with exactly three fast-break points for the night. And there was Russell Westbrook, who put up yet another triple-double (21 points / 17 rebounds / 11 assists), adding a smidgen of credence to the notion that Westbrook is at his best when Durant is wearing a suit. (The seventeen rebounds, incidentally, constitute a career high.) The Sixers, derided as a motley collection of rookies and D-Leaguers, played with a fair amount of spirit, but not enough to avoid their ninth straight loss — or their nineteenth, if you count their 0-10 collapse at the end of last season. Oklahoma City 102, Philadelphia 85, and we will try not to notice that the Thunder won three, lost three, and then won three. OKC dominated most of the statistical categories, and kept the turnovers down to 11, about half what they were giving up earlier in the season.

There were signs of life in the Sixers: Nerlens Noel, doubtful before gametime, turned out to be available, and led all Philly scorers with 13 while collecting 11 rebounds. Vaunted rookie center Jahlil Okafor was held to six points on 3-18 shooting. Unheralded (and undrafted) rookie point guard T. J. McConnell looked pretty good, if pretty raw. Still, the Sixers are 0 and 9, and face the Spurs in San Antonio tomorrow, which doesn’t look like an opportunity to improve on that record. The Warriors, who have tonight off, are still 10-0. And the Celtics will be in OKC on Sunday.


Distraught of Columbia

The worst-kept secret in the NBA is that the Washington Wizards would dearly love to snag hometown hero Kevin Durant when his current contract runs out. (Protocol requires that you not mention such things in public.) KD, not one to tip his hand, has given them no encouragement, which may or may not explain the scattering of boos during the first quarter tonight, while Durant was running the Wizards ragged. And then, suddenly, he wasn’t: after 17 minutes, 14 points and ten rebounds, KD, having strained a hamstring, took a seat. The Thunder really didn’t need him: it was 68-50 at halftime, and after a brief Washington rally to start the third quarter, OKC pretty much owned the Wizards the rest of the night, aided by a Russell Westbrook triple-double (again!) and major offensive production by Serge Ibaka and Dion Waiters. (Waiters posted a season-high 25.) The final was 125-101, which should tell you that this wasn’t a titanic defensive struggle.

The Wizards’ cause was not helped by the absence of Bradley Beal, who was held out of practice yesterday with shoulder problems. Gary Neal, starting in Beal’s place, proved to be a serviceable replacement — five Wizards, including Neal, made it to double figures — but in general, Washington was short on offense, shooting under 40 percent most of the night and under 20 percent on the long ball. (The Thunder didn’t miss a trey until the last shot of the first half.)

Meanwhile, in the Twitterverse, an account called @playmorrow2 appeared, intended to rally support for Anthony Morrow, who hasn’t been seen much this season; in mop-up duty tonight, he put up six shots, only one of which actually made it through the net. (Kyle Singler, usually accused of swiping Morrow’s minutes, scored eight on two treys and two free throws.) Still, the question that’s going to come up tonight is “Will Durant be back for Friday?” Don’t know just yet. Then again, Friday it’s the 76ers, who so far this season are 0 for whatever.


Increasing clouds

It took rather a long time for this game to make any sense. Down fifteen midway through the first quarter, the Suns went on a 17-2 run to tie it up; Mitch McGary, who’s not been garnering minutes in mass quantities this season, completed his first minute tonight with three fouls; somehow it doesn’t seem the same without both Morris twins on the Phoenix roster. (Markieff remains; Marcus was dealt to the Pistons, and by all accounts was not happy about it.) And the Thunder bench, which did such a lousy job finishing up the first quarter — see “Suns 17-2 run,” supra — polished off the third with style and grace, not necessarily in that order. After that, things shifted to “This is a game we’re supposed to win” mode, and though there were a few rough spots to get past, the Thunder pushed to a 20-point lead halfway through the fourth, and finished off Phoenix, 124-103.

Okay, it wasn’t pretty for much of the game; the Thunder put up far too many empty treys, and if OKC turnovers were up, the Suns were worse. Still, most of the time things were competitive, and there was definite consternation in the arena when Suns starting center Tyson Chandler pulled up lame in the fourth. (After all, Chandler almost played for OKC back in the day.) And Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe, who scored twenty points in the first half, was genuinely scary at times; he finished with a highly respectable 28.

But the Thunder, who’d lost three straight, were happy to administer a pounding to someone — anyone — this evening. Double-doubles from both Kevin Durant (32 points, 11 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (21 points, 13 assists) set the pace, but Enes Kanter led the bench with 21, and Dion Waiters hit a season-high 19. Let’s hope that’s enough to get the guys into a good mood for Tuesday, when they have to take on the (almost) always-dangerous Wizards (currently 3-3) in Washington.


Wings above the wind

From the looks of things early in the fourth quarter, the Thunder were going to roll another one just like the last two: promising at times, but fading late. And that’s pretty much the way it happened. Chicago’s speedy wing twins, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, certainly had no trouble rolling up the points no matter who got switched onto defending them. Still, OKC erased a ten-point deficit in the final frame to tie it at 90, though the Thunder would never actually get past the Bulls, and Rose, backed up by Pau Gasol, tormented them fiercely in those last few minutes, giving Chicago the win going away, 104-98, dropping OKC to 3-3.

At least they addressed the turnover issue, giving away the rock only nine times, about half the team average. (Then again, the Bulls gave it up only six times, from which OKC was able to score only four points.) Nothing, though, was going to stop Rose, who bounced back from three fairly lousy games to knock down 29 points on the night, twelve of them in the fourth quarter. And while Rose was hitting the point-blank stuff, Butler was hitting the long ball: four out of five for 26. As radio guy Matt Pinto is fond of saying, it’s when you get them, and in the last three minutes, the Thunder weren’t getting them.

Durant + Westbrook = 53 points, two shy of the Rose/Butler combine. And Russell had ten rebounds to go with his 20 points. Then again, there were times that I got the feeling that these two guys hadn’t played much together. (And most of last season, well, no, they didn’t.) The bench wasn’t much help, though Enes Kanter has learned at least some of the rudiments of defense, and while Dion Waiters collected only four points, it took him a mere three shots to get them.

So four games in five days produced three consecutive losses. Not inspiring. It is, of course, still early yet, and by now most of the Thunder’s problems have been on display for all, and by “all” I mean mostly Billy Donovan, to see. Donovan continues to fiddle with the rotation; at some point he’s going to find a combination of five that can pull off something like a 19-2 run. Maybe. One can only hope. The Suns, currently 3-2, will be in OKC on Sunday.


Everybody walk the dinosaurs

The Raptors descended from Canada with a 4-0 record and the amazing ability to avoid fouling. (The Thunder tonight literally didn’t get a free throw until midway through the second quarter.) I wouldn’t have expected a titanic defensive struggle, but the 23-16 first-quarter score made me wonder. Toronto took a one-point lead at the half, 40-39; weirdly, Oklahoma City dominated the third quarter, 42-33, as though someone from the heavens, or Secaucus, or someplace, decreed: “Okay, you guys can score now.” The first order of business for OKC was to somehow DeFang Toronto’s DeMar DeRozen; they did occasionally keep DeRozen more or less at bay from the floor, but they had to foul him to do it, and when they didn’t foul him, DeRozen was free to inflict DeStruction. (DeRozen’s line is instructive: 7-18, but 14-15 from the stripe.) And after that, the Raptors depart 5-0, having dispatched the Thunder 103-98.

Did we mention DeRozen’s 14-15 on free throws? The entire Thunder squad was 12-14. It wasn’t a bunch of questionable calls, either: Toronto simply played it as cleanly as they could, apart from one hissy fit by Bismack Biyombo that earned him a T. (The return of the Telltale Statistic: of the 16 personal fouls committed by the Raptors, nine came from Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry, each of whom scored 17 points. OKC was hit with 29 fouls.)

OKC ball movement seems marginally better these days; 26 assists were recorded, 16 of them by Russell Westbrook. But Double Zero also had eight of the team’s 19 turnovers to go with his 22 points. (That Durant guy, in case you were wondering, logged 27.) And what’s going to burn the team’s ears on the way to Chicago is this: they had a 97-91 lead. The Raptors finished them off with a 12-1 run. That 1, incidentally, was a KD foul shot; he missed the second, and some thought it was deliberate, to set up a rebound. It ended, not as tragedy, but as farce: a jump ball in which Valanciunas somehow made Serge Ibaka look slow.

As long as Billy Donovan is reviewing things, he might call the lost-and-found, and see if anyone’s found the team that crushed the Spurs on opening night. They’ve got to be around somewhere.


Glared at redly

The Houston Rockets dropped their first three games, losing by 20 to Denver, by 20 to Golden State, and by 20 to Miami. You have to figure that this couldn’t go on indefinitely, and indeed the Rockets jumped out to an early seven-point lead; the Thunder fought back, and by halftime had a 65-54 lead. Then both Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson got into foul trouble — four each — and while they were sidelined, the Rockets erased the entirety of that lead while confining OKC to a mere 14 points in that third quarter. Things got hairy after that, and is anyone surprised to hear that Westbrook and Patrick Beverley drew offsetting technicals? Not me, and probably not you either. Houston never led by more than seven, but all you need at the horn is one, and the Thunder never got any closer than three in the waning moments. Houston 110, OKC 105, and two streaks come to a grinding halt.

I’ve harped on turnovers, and I’m sure Billy Donovan has harped on turnovers, but I’m not quite sure it’s sunk in yet: OKC had all sorts of superior numbers tonight, including most notably a 55-34 rebounding advantage, 14-7 off the offensive glass, but the Rockets had seven blocks and 18 steals. That’s twenty-five times the Thunder gave up the rock, against 12 for Houston. There were several times when the team seemed downright panicky: “What do we do now?” “Execute the way you’re supposed to” is always the answer, but they didn’t do it. And James Harden, who’d had a horrific start to his season, started looking like James Harden again, with a game-high 37 points. Truth be told, I think he was just looking for his confidence to come back. Hell of a gift for the Thunder to hand him.

If nothing else, this game should tell OKC that there are only so many times in a season where old-fashioned hero ball will actually work. This wasn’t one of them. At the very least, they need to pass the ball around a bit: 17 assists will not do the trick, especially if you’ve committed a couple of dozen turnovers along the way. (Houston had 22 assists and, I repeat, only 12 turnovers.) We’ll see if they remember that Wednesday night when the Raptors come to town.


A Nugget-crushing machine

Denver stayed pretty close through the first half of this game; being on the downside of a 58-50 count isn’t that impressive, perhaps, but shooting less than 40 percent and trailing by only eight is not exactly shameful. There would be no turnaround for the Nuggets, however: the Thunder was as dominant as the 37-20 third-quarter says, and the OKC starters sat for the fourth, perhaps resting up for tomorrow night’s match at Houston. Inside the five-minute mark, Mitch McGary and Cameron Payne made their first appearances of the season, and Oklahoma City coasted to a surprisingly easy 117-93 win over the Nuggets.

The absence of Wilson Chandler didn’t help matters for Denver, but the young Nuggets never quite gave up. Consistency seems to be a problem for them: they thrashed Houston in the opener while shooting 50 percent from the floor, then dropped one to the Timberwolves shooting 30 percent. Tonight they seldom managed as much as 40, though OKC’s ten blocks — half of them by Serge Ibaka — definitely hindered Denver’s cause. Starting sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari and reserve swingman Will Barton shared team-high honors, with 15 points each.

With the starters taking a break, seven Thundermen managed double-figure scoring, Kevin Durant collecting 25 points in a mere 27 minutes. For the most part, OKC executed well, though you can bet Billy Donovan is pointing to those 19 turnovers on the box score on the plane. Still, knocking down 52 percent of your shots, and 52 percent of your three-point shots, is plenty good enough most nights in the NBA.

Tomorrow night, however, is not “most nights”: the Rockets have sputtered early on, losing their opener to these very Nuggets, but they seldom stay in sputter mode for too awfully long, and Kevin McHale always has something up his well-worn sleeve. We’ll see how that goes tomorrow. If the Thunder fail to sustain this 110-point-per-game pace — well, they may not have to.


Late bloomers

The Magic put out the warning early: they were going to shoot, to shoot often, and to hit more often than not. And for the most part they made it stick, too; it was well into the fourth quarter when Orlando’s shooting percentage finally dropped below 50 percent. But what enabled them to unravel OKC for those minutes was their ability to recover from “than not”; when the Magic needed second-chance points, they got them, thanks to an inconsistent Thunder defense. Still, down 18 at the beginning of the final frame, OKC fought back to within one point, 110-109. Then Enes Kanter committed his sixth foul, Victor Oladipo knocked down two free throws. Russell Westbrook came back with a layup, then fouled Aaron Gordon, who made both of his freebies; with 13.5 left, Kevin Durant evened it up at 114. Of course, the Magic were going to shoot, and Oladipo stepped back for a beautiful trey; Westbrook, manifestly unimpressed, banked one in from damn near 40 feet at 0.7, and then batted away the last Magic salvo. Overtime, something no one had expected 12 minutes ago, duly ensued. With 7.8 left in OT, it was Westbrook 9, Magic 6. Then Oladipo let one fly from the left corner, and the second overtime ensued. And just inside the 10-second mark, the Magic, down two, fouled Steven Adams, the Thunder player least likely to make two free throws. Adams promptly made two free throws. With six seconds left, the Magic got two shots at the cylinder, and both of them were swatted away; OKC escaped with a 139-136 win against an Orlando squad that was a hell of a lot better than most people seem willing to believe.

Seriously. All five Magic starters made double figures, with Tobias Harris picking up 30 and Victor Oladipo bagging a triple-double (21 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists). Nikola Vučević, manning the middle, had 26 points and five blocks. And four players finished with five fouls, indicating uncanny levels of restraint toward the end. What undid them, finally, was the sort of defense the Thunder didn’t show them until the fourth quarter — and which dropped their shooting percentage to 44.3.

Oh, and Russell Westbrook. Who started the night 2-11. He finished 17-36 with 48 points. And there was Kevin Durant, with 43 points and 12 rebounds. But look at the plus/minus, and there are two guys with +24: D. J. Augustin, who hit when he needed to (4-6, 12 points), and Dion Waiters, who couldn’t hit but somehow defended like a madman (seven rebounds, all defensive). Go figure.

Right about now, Billy Donovan is scratching his head and wondering what the hell it was he just saw. You may as well get used to it, pal: this is Thunder basketball, the leading cause of cardiac arrest in all of Soonerland. It resumes Sunday evening at home against Denver.

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The opening tip went to the Spurs; Andre Roberson picked it off and stuffed it through the hoop. And there’s your tone for the game right there: fast and furious, even when the aged wizards from San Antonio sought to slow things in the third quarter. (It’s no accident that the one truly dominant Spur tonight was Kawhi Leonard, who’s not yet twenty-five.) With just over two minutes left, it was tied at 103, with Dion Waiters serving up the tying bucket; fifty seconds later, the Spurs came up dry, and Waiters brought a second helping. Russell Westbrook followed up with a nifty trey; Leonard got a three-point play the old-fashioned way, and with 21 seconds left, it was 108-106 OKC, and the Spurs failed to inbound. Time out, try again. A Danny Green would-be trey hit nothing but air, Kevin Durant dropped in two free throws, the Spurs came up empty again, and Westbrook finished the job from the stripe. Opening night: Oklahoma City 112, San Antonio 106, despite 32 from Leonard, the youngster’s career high.

It’s not that they leaned too much on Kawhi, either; every one of the ten Spurs who saw action collected at least four points, even Obi-Wan Duncan (eight points, 26 minutes). Perhaps the problem is that one of those four-point guys was Danny Green, who came out with a feeble (for Green, anyway) 2 of 9. Still, Manu remains Manu, LaMarcus Aldridge apparently won’t need much integration into the Spurs machine, and 41 bench points will tell you that San Antonio isn’t lacking in depth.

But neither is OKC, with 39 points from Thunder reserves, including a double-double from Enes Kanter (15 points, 16 rebounds). There’s always the question of how a max player starts the year on the bench, but Kanter got nearly as much playing time as Steven Adams, who started in the middle, and, well, Adams is the better defender. The only other double-double came from Westbrook, who finished with 33 points and ten assists. Kevin Durant, you may be sure, was sufficiently Durant-y to suit the capacity crowd, knocking down 22. Still, you look at the plus/minus, and there’s Dion Waiters with a game-high +15. Can he possibly be … clutch?

The early schedule looks bizarre: away, then home, then away, then home, all the way through the 10th of November, before an actual two-game homestand — which is followed by an away game the next night. And not just any away game, either: it’s Memphis. Better fasten those seat belts now.


Lots of solos

The Jazz beat the Thunder twice in Salt Lake City last season, and briefly they came close to dispatching them again tonight, cutting a lead as big as 21 points to a mere three halfway through the fourth quarter: Utah hit nine of its first eleven shots in that final frame, definitely a different dynamic from the scene early on when Russell Westbrook (!) was briefly guarding the ten-inch-taller Rudy Gobert. This calls, you say, for Kevin Durant? You damn betcha. KD scored ten in a row to put the game out of reach, and Westbrook rolled up a triple-double for the night. The final was 113-102; imagine what the score might have been had OKC not turned the ball over twenty-odd times. Then again, it’s preseason, so it doesn’t really matter — does it?


Not the Nuggets’ night

The ‘Peake is not often hospitable to the Denver Nuggets, and it wasn’t tonight: the starters who sat against Memphis were up and at ’em for this game. (Then again, Mitch McGary, who suffered a concussion in the Grizzlies game, is out until he clears the NBA concussion protocol.) The Nuggets were working hard, but not much of that hard work translated into actual points, though Danilo Gallinari was making some tough shots; OKC began pulling away midway through the second quarter, and blew it open in the fourth despite losing Steven Adams, who got poked in the eye. (Kevin Durant? Yeah, he showed up. Played 31 minutes, scored 23 on 9-14 shooting.) The final, which of course doesn’t matter at all since it’s the preseason, was 111-98, and the only thing in doubt was whether Enes Kanter would foul out. (He did, with about a minute left.) Mike Malone has a bunch of youngsters on his roster this year, but they’ll learn quickly enough.


Drubbed by cubs

This may or may not say something:

This shouldn’t have mattered, especially since Dave Joerger decided to rest most of his marquee names, but the second- and third-string Thunder offenses were utterly horrible against just about any member of the Griz, trailing 34-14 five minutes into the second quarter and never getting back to within single digits. Of course, it’s preseason and doesn’t mean anything, right? Still, the FedEx Forum in Memphis has long been a scary place for visiting teams, and this 94-78 thrashing of the Thunder, even the JV, will only reinforce that fear.


Big D X’ed in T-town

This, of course, is a preseason game, and the Dallas Mavericks were not at full strength — Dirk didn’t make the trip, and Chandler Parsons was unwell, just to name a couple — but the Mavs hung tough and took a three-point lead in the fourth quarter. We’ve all seen preseason games where this was considered No Big Deal. Billy Donovan begs to differ. The Thunder, down three, went on a 19-2 run to take it away from the Mavs, prompting Rick Carlisle to bring on the new kids for the last few minutes. The Thunder got their third straight non-counting win, 100-88, in front of a very full BOk Center. Downside: Enes Kanter, after a double-double (17 points/11 rebounds), messed up his ankle and did not return. Next outing: Friday in Memphis.