The Thunder defended like mad, after an early swoon, earned extra shots on the glass, and hung around to win a close one. 2009-10, all over again. It felt like last spring, it was so warm and breezy, and the birds were chirping. Clearly, I was drunk.
Drunk off a fantastic game, one in which the Trail Blazers competed well but failed to properly build on what was an early advantage in the way the Portland front line was allowed easy dunks and lobs time and time again in the first half. Jeff Green(notes) and Nenad Krstic(notes) just could not seem to stop LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) from spinning away and taking in the lob pass for a dunk, and for a while there it seemed like the Trail Blazers would pull away, leaving us all with an easy night following a crazy 12-game Wednesday.
Instead, happily, we had to stay an inch away from the TV until around 1 a.m., Eastern, as the Thunder just kept battling. Though his shot left him to close the fourth quarter and overtime, Russell Westbrook(notes) was a dominant force, squaring his shoulders for all sorts of back-breakers (actual physical component/figurative physical component) in the fourth quarter, while crashing the glass on both ends throughout. 28 and 11 rebounds.
The same line for Kevin Durant(notes), who also played some sound defense down the stretch on Brandon Roy(notes), and Serge Ibaka(notes) (11 points, seven rebounds, two blocks in 30 minutes) was that guy again.
The Blazers played well, but I just got the feeling that they ran out of gas as the game moved along. A lot of tough interior shots that did not fall, and you wonder if the hectic early schedule (six games in ten days) and the team's ever-shrinking bench had something to do with those missed chippies from Roy and Andre Miller(notes) (13 of 35 shooting, combined). Though his line wasn't much (16 points on 16 shots), Nic Batum looked like a star at times. Four rebounds in 45 minutes from Aldridge just isn't going to work, though.
So many threes. So many threes, people.
The Knicks just couldn't seem to miss. And while Chicago had its screwups in terms of closing out and coming down on the shooting hand of these shooters, and the Knicks did extremely well in picking and choosing when to fire one up, New York just had a fluke-y good touch going on. Knicks fans are going to hate me for calling that shooting performance (16-24, from deep) an aberration, but even the best-shooting team in an empty gym isn't pulling that line off.
Chicago actually played well. 20 turnovers were way too much, but the team held Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) to 14 points on 21 shots (that's a big man, with those percentages, mind you), and the team's bench finally came alive. A little too alive, at Budokan, intensity in ten cities. Because Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau went with guys like C.J. Watson(notes) and Omer Asik(notes) to close the game, instead of Derrick Rose(notes) and Joakim Noah(notes), and took rightful heat for it.
I understand why Thibs went that way, because as individually impressive as Derrick (14 assists) and Noah (13 rebounds) were, the group featuring Asik and Watson was playing better, and close the game down to a nine-point contest with five minutes to go. But once it because apparent that the game wasn't getting below nine points -- say, with four minutes to go -- Thibs needed to bring his stars back. And you got the feeling that he knew that, but couldn't embarrass things further by bringing them back in with, say, two minutes left after the Knick lead had been pumped back up.
But beyond that, a great showing from the Knick shooters. Hardly something to bank on, but with an improved Stoudemire, certainly something to try and approximate moving forward.