HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Kevin Martin was off to a hot start with his new team, and the Oklahoma City Thunder were a solid 8-3 (tied for the fourth-best record in the league) through Tuesday. But something was missing.
None of OKC’s eight wins were all that impressive, the Thunder had played the third-easiest schedule in the league, and they had lost their only two games against real contenders (San Antonio and Memphis).
But on Wednesday, OKC hosted the Los Angeles Clippers, the only team in the league that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And in a game that may have got lost in all the League Pass drama that we saw Wednesday night, the Thunder got their signature win.
It wasn’t a dominant performance on either end of the floor, and the Clippers had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation. But the Thunder will take the victory no matter the circumstances, because they really did want that notch on their belt, as Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman writes…
Not a soul on Oklahoma City’s side would dare confess to it before the game.
But the fact remained.
The Thunder needed a win Wednesday in the worse way. Not because wins have been in short supply this season, but because quality wins against quality opponents have been non-existent, calling into question how good this revamped Thunder team really is in the early part of this season.
“This is our 12th game,” Kevin Durant rebutted 90 minutes prior to tip. “It’s November.”
For once, the Thunder didn’t play like it.
Facing the red hot Los Angeles Clippers, the Thunder strung together one of its best performances yet and watched it result in an encouraging 117-111 overtime victory before a raucous sellout crowd of 18,203 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It was like a playoff game…in November,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Chris Paul played his worst game of the season (nine points on 2-for-14 shooting), but as Mayberry notes in his blog, Thabo Sefolosha had a lot to do with that…
Thabo Sefolosha was the player of this game. Scott Brooks did exactly what I thought he should do and that was start Sefolosha on Chris Paul and move Russell Westbrook to Willie Green. Not only did Brooks start the game that way, but he also stuck to it for the majority of the night. I said going in that Sefolosha had the potential to be the biggest difference-maker because of what he might be able to do with his defense and he turned in a terrific performance. By hounding Paul with size, length and relentlessness, Sefolosha disrupted the Clippers’ rhythm from the start and helped force Paul into one of his worst nights as a pro. Job well done.
The Thunder still have issues. Their starters struggle to score and their bench struggles to defend. Though they’ve won three straight games, they’ve allowed their opponents to score 110 points per 100 possessions over the last four. Despite their easy early schedule, they currently rank 12th in the league in defensive efficiency. And as we saw last year, that’s not good enough.
But the Thunder now have a victory they can hang their hat on. Next up is a trip to Boston and Philadelphia, their first multi-game trip of the season. Though neither team is currently at their best, road wins are always good wins. So the opportunity is there for OKC to continue to build some momentum toward their first matchup with L.A.’s other team on Dec. 7.