Rolling Thunder: OKC Crushes Phoenix
OKLAHOMA CITY - If you hadn't already, it's time to stop worrying about whether or not Oklahoma City is going to make the playoffs.
Sunday's 112-88 win over Phoenix left the Thunder just a half game out of the playoff race in the Western Conference with, oh, two-thirds of the season to go. At this point, it's almost silly we ever worried about the possibility of OKC watching the playoffs from home.
The Thunder has passed through different phases on its return to normalcy. Things weren't very pretty when everyone first came back from injuries, but for the second straight game, Oklahoma City put up 70 points in the first half, the first time that has happened in the OKC era. More than half of those came in a 41-point explosion in the first quarter, two nights after the Thunder put up 39 points in the first quarter against Minnesota.
Needless to say, Oklahoma City has kind of figured out this whole offense thing, especially as it pertains to starting fast. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 42 points in the first half and while Serge Ibaka was limited by foul problems, he scored eight points in the first six minutes of the game to help the Thunder establish a big early lead it never relinquished. Ibaka finished with 12 points
Sunday night was such a great performance, the second half was merely a formality and it showed as the quality of play dipped a lot from the first 24 minutes. But it did offer a couple of positives, such as Mitch McGary's NBA debut with 7:15 remaining in the game. McGary entered to a solid ovation and proceeded to basically run wind sprints up and down the court the rest of the game. The guy is all about hustling. He scored his first points with four minutes remaining and finished with two points and three rebounds.
After two straight games of nearly blowing big second half leads against Cleveland and Minnesota, the Thunder refused to allow that to happen on Sunday. OKC led by 25 after three quarters and won the game by 24. The lead never dipped below 20 in the fourth quarter as the bench put up a strong showing against the Phoenix bench unit, even without Jeremy Lamb, who missed the game with a sore foot (Lamb could have played but the blowout nature of the game allowed him to rest).
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before the game he would raise Durant's minutes restriction on Sunday, but we never got to see what the new number was since Durant had to play just 24 minutes. He finished with 23 points and eight rebounds and had his best shooting performance, going 8-of-13 from the field.
Westbrook was sensational once again and at this rate, he'll have his name in the MVP conversation if he's not careful. Unfortunately, the blowout nature of the game prevented an incredible final line from Westbrook. Instead, he had to settle for 28 points, eight rebound and eight assists in 27 minutes. Ho-hum.
Still, it's been Westbrook, not Durant who has been the most impressive OKC player in the past two weeks and that's perfectly OK. That's why it's good for the Thunder to have two superstars on the roster, even though there are some out there who think Westbrook's incredible talent holds OKC back. Needless to say, that crowd has been pretty quiet recently.
With the playoff question all but eliminated, the question now becomes how high the Thunder can climb in the standings. OKC will have an opportunity to do that over the rest of December, as it faces seven teams it is currently tied with or behind in the standings. By the end of 2014, the Thunder could be back to .500 and could be well on its way to making an assault on the top of the Western Conference.