By Randy Renner
The rims were rattling, the arena was shaking and the Thunder were rolling…all in all it was quite a night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Superstar Kevin Durant even came back from a sprained toe earlier than most anyone expected and then went out and had a terrific game scoring 26 points and pulling down 17 rebounds in leading his team to a 112-94 win over long-time rival Memphis.
Russell Westbrook rattled the rims early with a two-handed slam off a break-away and fans, especially those in Loud City, felt the arena shake in the 3rd quarter as back-to-back 4.7 and 4.8 magnitude earthquakes rumbled.
Westbrook finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Even Dion Waiters, who’s been struggling to hit shots lately, went 6-for-9 including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, scoring 15 points.
“It’s good man. I think he did a good job of attacking and staying aggressive,” Westbrook said about Waiters. “Playing the way he is supposed to play and he did a good job.”
It was a good bounce-back game coming off a lackluster loss to Sacramento on Monday night. The Thunder had trouble with transition defense, rebounding and defending the low post. None of those problems were issues Wednesday night.
“I thought to start the game, we were pretty focused defensively,” said head coach Billy Donovan. “I thought we made some improvements from our last game and I thought, tonight, we did a better job with our concentration and focus.”
Center Steven Adams, who got into early foul trouble Monday which hampered his efforts against DeMarcus Cousins, stayed clear of killer fouls this time and held Marc Gasol to just 2-for-11 shooting.
“Defensively, Steven did a great job post defense wise,” Donovan said. “He made it very difficult down there. He’s very physical.”
The Thunder jumped on Memphis early, getting up by nine points in the first quarter and stretching the lead out to as many as 24. The Grizzlies tried to get a couple of runs going but each time the Thunder answered with a run of their own to gain back firm control.
Memphis never could get anything going on the offensive end. They were held to 16 points on 29.2 percent shooting in then first quarter and 36 points (the fewest OKC has allowed in a first half this season) on 29.8 percent shooting in the first half. The Grizz finished at just 38.9 percent shooting.
“Our defensive numbers looked unbelievable in the first half,” Donovan admitted, “And I did think we did a much better job defensively, we did a good job, but we got a little bit too loose at different points in that first half and we gave up some open shots that they did not make. They missed some shots. But overall, we were able to bounce back and sustain a level of intensity there.”
Durant was just 2-for-10 in the first half for nine points but he got hot the rest of the way going 7-for-8 with 17 points in the second half.
“I’ve said this many times about Kevin, even when he’s injured or hurt, he’s going to do something to push the limits to try to get himself back, to try to get himself better,” Donovan said. “And he did a lot of really good things tonight.”
It was a game the Thunder really needed to jump start a six-day, three-game road trip that begins in Los Angeles Friday night against the Lakers, then moves on for games against Portland (Sunday) and Minnesota (Tuesday) before the team returns to The Peake Wednesday night to host the Dallas Mavericks.
“So I thought overall it was a good win,” the head coach acknowledged. “Obviously, we go on the road now for three games where we are going to need to carry over this kind of concentration and focus we have going and playing three on the road now.”
The Thunder begin the trip at 25-11, good enough for third place in the NBA’s Western Conference but also bad enough that many are still questioning just how good this team can be if the inconsistencies at both ends of the floor from game to game can’t be leveled out.