Pace: 86 possessions (slow)
Offensive Efficiency: 122.1 points/100 possessions (off the charts)
Defensive Efficiency: 101.2 points allowed/100 possessions (league best)
Thumbnail: Pierce, Perk and KG combine for 46 points on 16-of-21 shooting in the 1st half as an amped-up C’s team picks apart the Thunder. (And KG finished 10-of-11, meaning he is 41-of-52—79 percent—in his last five games).
Bullet points before Brendan Jackson’s full recap:
• After last week’s lackluster home win against Philly, I wrote about how there were games in which good teams are trying to win and games in which they are really freaking trying to win. For whatever reason, the C’s were really freaking trying to win this game. Maybe they wanted the unbeaten road trip. Maybe they think the Thunder are getting a little too high on themselves after a nice start. Maybe the C’s get meaner on the road.
Because they were mean tonight. Nasty. I honestly thought someone on OKC was going to take a shot at KG, because KG was in full-on bully mode. His chest-to-chest bumps had some extra oomph.
It all peaked at 5:07 of the 2nd quarter, when KG challenged a Durant lay-up hard, Durant made the shot and clapped his hands a couple of times in front of KG. Garnett was truly pissed; stone-faced, he took two steps toward Durant so they were only a few inches apart. Durant was either terrified, ready to throw down or completely baffled as to why this crazy person seemed to hate him so much.
• The C’s defense was fantastic tonight. They had a clear strategy: Make OKC take mid-range jump shots (a type of shot the Thunder take too often, according to Royce at the outstanding blog Daily Thunder). Note: This is not the same strategy as “let Durant get his and contain everyone else,” even though the box score (Durant had 36 of OKC’s 87 points) makes it look that way and lazy sportswriters may tell the story that way. Paul Pierce worked his ass off to try and stay with Durant tonight. He fought through and over dozens of screens in the paint and at the elbows and generally stayed in Durant’s grill. But Durant, at 6’9”, is just too tall and too good.
The C’s had one shot they were willing to see OKC take all night: A Russell Westbrook jumper from the elbow. The C’s defended screen/rolls involving Westbrook as the dribbler the same way every time: Rondo chased Westbrook over the screen while the screener’s defender (usually Perk) sagged down to about the foul line, giving Westbrook a brief opening about 18-feet away from the rim.
It worked. Westbrook finished finished 6-of-16 and the Thunder were 1-of-10 from three-point range over the first three quarters. (The 4th quarter was largely garbage time, which might have to be renamed House Time).
• Offensively, this was a very smooth performance…
The C’s took the most favorable match-up every time down the floor and milked it until OKC adjusted. In the 1st quarter, that meant four straight possessions going to KG on the block against the 6’9” Jeff Green. The results: Basket; assist to Rondo; travel; drawn foul. I’ll take it.
• Twenty games into the season, I haven’t seen a team switch as often on screen/roll as the Thunder. And you can’t do that against Boston. When the C’s run their 1-3 screen/roll with House and Pierce, and you decide to just lazily switch your back-up point guard (the 5’10” Mike Wilks) onto Pierce, well, it’s not going to work out for you most times. Ditto if you switch Thabo Sefolosha (6’5”) onto Rasheed Wallace or Jeff Green onto Paul Pierce.
Pierce had a game’s worth of stats in the first half: 21-5-4 on 6-of-10 shooting. Pierce, KG and Perk combined scored 46 of the C’s 60 first half points on 16-of-21 from the floor. Yikes.
The Hawks have the personnel to pull off over-switching, and they sometimes do it out of necessity because their point guard (Mike Bibby) can’t stay with anyone. The Thunder don’t quite have the personnel (at least against Boston), and the C’s hurt them over and over tonight. And it could have been worse—Sheed missed an easy shot over Sefolosha and fumbled away a pass from Pierce on a screen/roll that would have turned into a dunk.
• It looks like the C’s committed a ton of turnovers (18 team TOs), and they did. But seven of those came in the 4th quarter, when the game was over. Turning the ball over 11 times in three quarters isn’t good, but the TO problem was not as catastrophic as the final stats suggest. (And the C’s—currently leading the league in forcing TOs—forced a ton again tonight).
• Rondo spent most of the 1st half distributing before exploding for 12 points in the 3rd quarter, including three lay-ups in traffic. We all have this thing with Rondo, where we see him sink these gorgeous lay-ups in traffic and think, “Why can’t he score like this more often?”
Thing to keep in mind: Rondo’s last three baskets of the quarter—including the two contested lay-ins that made me drool—came with the 5’10” Mike Wilks guarding him. Rondo is not yet comfortable taking those shots over guys a bit taller than him, but he showed tonight that he can attack smaller guys one-on-one and punish them.
Related note: Jameer Nelson is 6’0” and Mo Williams is 6’1″. File it away.
• It’s at the point now that I’m breaking it down on video this weekend: Paul Pierce is amazing at defending against fast breaks. There may not anyone better at challenging a fast break lay-up attempt without fouling. He disrupted two such lay-ups on back-to-back OKC possessions in the 2nd quarter tonight.
• Sheed is in danger of becoming a caricature of himself, if he hasn’t become so already. It seems like he’s yelling “And one!” after every other shot, demanding foul calls and protesting loudly when he does not get them. Sheed: You’re better than that, and it’s beginning to border on the ridiculous/pathetic. Just play the game. You’re good at it.
• Speaking of Sheed, the OKC analyst (ex-player Grant Long) said Sheed appeared to be 15 pounds heavier than the last time Long saw him. The play-by-play guy on Thursday’s telecast (and I’ve already forgotten who called the game) said something similar.
Is Sheed out of shape?
• We can halt the rebounding panic for at least one night. The C’s allowed the Thunder to grab just six offensive boards in 37 rebounding chances under the C’s hoop, meaning the C’s secured about 84 percent of defensive boards. A percentage in the high 70s usually leads the league over the course of a season.
• And the C’s pulled down nine offensive boards, several of which led directly to baskets—a Rajon tip-in during the 3rd quarter, a Perk put-back in the 2nd and a House three off of a kick-out pass in the 2nd. It’s amazing how much difference just a few offensive boards can make.
• A lot of us bash announcers fairly often. I want to take a second to say that OKC’s play-by-play guy, Brian Davis, is outstanding. He was well-prepared, knew a lot of background on the C’s players and generally understood their offensive and defensive tendencies. (And I appreciate this at the end of a week in which one opposing play-by-play guy was surprised the C’s were committing a lot of turnovers, since they are normally “so careful” with the ball. Umm, no. If bloggers with non-basketball day jobs know that’s not true, you should too, announcer guy I won’t name).
• The C’s started the 4th quarter with an All-Bench line-up, and I was disappointed to see that Sheed did not assert himself in the post. To me, this is when the team needs Sheed’s post game the most—when he’s on the floor with four back-ups, or (more common) when he’s on the floor at the start of the 2nd and 4th quarters with three back-ups and either Ray or Pierce.
The game was decided by this point, so perhaps Sheed didn’t want to expend any unnecessary energy. The less optimistic answer is that the Thunder used something resembling a real center (Etan Thomas) in the 4th instead of Nick Collison or Serge Ibaka. Posting up real centers is hard work.
• That’s it for tonight. Watch for more stuff here over the weekend. The C’s get three days off before hosting Milwaukee on Tuesday for a one-game “home stand.” They then head back on the road for three games at Washington, Chicago and Memphis.
Enjoy the weekend.