About an hour before gametime, it was announced that Serge Ibaka would miss the game with flu-like symptoms, and that Perry Jones III would start. It’s only the supposedly tanking Jazz, right? It will be good for PJIII to get some run with the starters while Serge gets healthy. Not so fast…
If you had told me before the game that Kevin Durant would have 48 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals, I would have laughed and said “Again?!?”. If you had told me the Thunder would take 21 more field goal attempts than the Jazz tonight, I would have laughed again and asked how much they won by. When you finally told me they lost, and by double digits no less, I would have fallen out of my chair, asked how you knew all of these things, and then asked how is that possible? How could they lose this game?
For starters, Gordon Hayward scored a career high 37 points on 13 of 16 shooting. Seriously. And he was amazing down the stretch from everywhere on the court except the free throw line. Tip your hat to him, he was that good.
But the main takeaway from tonight’s game was that Serge Ibaka being out was a really big deal. Right out of the gate the Jazz put the Thunder up against it, and they continued to shoot lights out right through the end of the game. They ended the game shooting an astonishing 59% from the field, including 8-18 from beyond the arc. Teams don’t shoot that well when Ibaka plays. It just doesn’t happen. Without Ibaka in the game to protect the basket, the Jazz shot 13 of 14 (93%) inside of the restricted area. The Thunder have held opponents to under 57% shooting from that area this season, good for fourth in the league, because that is how good Serge Ibaka is. In fact, the Thunder were so bad defensively without Ibaka that Scott Brooks had to put in a lineup that included Thabo, Perk and Andre Roberson at the same time just to wake them up, and it did just as you would expect offensively. Not well.
From the Thunder side of things, this was absolutely unacceptable, especially since they countered with a 39% shooting night of their own. They also shot 6 for 34 from three. The offense was stagnant at times, as players watched KD & Reggie Jackson create all by themselves. So stagnant, in fact, that the word “Knicks” was thrown around multiple times by fans watching the game. But in the end, it was defense, and it always will be. There is always a ton of talk about how much the Thunder miss Russell Westbrook when things aren’t going well. Tonight, the Thunder missed Serge Ibaka as well.
Keys to the Game
Bench Play: C-
No one really stepped up tonight. Nick Collison had his typical superb all-around game, and he even hit an important corner three during the late Thunder push to get back into it, but with Serge and Russ out, Jeremy Lamb really needed to get going for the Thunder to operate well offensively. He finished with 9 points, including an abysmal 1-8 from three.
Limit Turnovers: A
Good job. They only had 10. Combine that with the 13 steals and 18 assists, that’s a pretty good night for the Thunder in that respect.
Reggie Action Jackson: A-
Overall he had a very solid game, but when Serge and Russ are both out, it almost needs to be more than the 20 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals he posted. That’s an admittedly unfair expectation, but he did play 42 minutes. The problem certainly wasn’t Reggie Jackson tonight.