Mar, 10, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives to the basket against Charlotte Bobcats point guard D.J. Augustin (14) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE
There are a few things in life that you know are certainties: the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, McDonald's will inevitably make you obese but happy, and the Bobcats will lose to the Thunder. In a tweet earlier today, I set the over/under for tonight's game at 23 points in the Thunder's favor. If you chose the under, I applaud your loyalty and faith in the Bobcats. But as expected, the Thunder easily dealt with the Bobcats.
Early on, our cuddly cats looked great. Their passes were crisp, they were hitting shots, and their spacing was immaculate. The Thunder were shooting well, which I'd attribute more to being hot than to a lack of defense from the Bobcats. On several occasions, Kevin Durant would pull up from the elbow with an arm in his grill, only to hit nothing but net. Or he'd pull up for a 25 foot three and drill it. The defense wasn't terrible. It just wasn't nearly as good as it needed to be to keep this game close.
The thing to keep in mind regarding this loss is that the Thunder are inarguably one of the top two teams in the league this season. Barring a freak performance by Corey Maggette or D.J. Augustin, this game simply was not winnable from the tip. And there's nothing wrong with that. So long as the Bobcats tried and showed signs of improvement, the outcome was irrelevant.
Tonight's gold star goes to D.J. Augustin (22 points on 7/16 FG, 7 assists, 1 turnover), whom orchestrated the offense incredibly well and held his own against an equally impressive performance by Russell Westbrook. Augustin routinely penetrated the defense and either finished with a layup or dished the ball to an open team mate under the rim. The one blemish on his performance was defense. Augustin could not guard Russell Westbrook. The Thunder repeatedly isolated Westbrook in the post against Augustin where he enjoyed great success, finishing with 23 points (10/14 FG). While Augustin's future on the Bobcats is certainly in question, tonight he showed that he's deserving of a starting job and is able to contribute in a variety of ways.
The silver star goes to Corey Maggette (21 points on 6/12 FG, 7/8 FT), whom did Corey Maggette stuff. Lots of jumpers that make you pull your hair coupled with a bunch of free throws. In recent games, Maggette has begun to show some consistency and glimpses of what the Bobcats expected when they acquired him. He's a reliable scorer that has some leadership skills, even if he is a sieve (understatement) on defense.
Speaking of defense, there was none. As much as the Bobcats tried, their rotations were a couple of steps late. Even the dependable Gerald Henderson struggled to contain his match ups. I'm uncertain if it's the system that the Bobcats employ or a lack of commitment from the players at this point, but my gut tells me it's a mixture of the two. If you look at the roster, there's really no true defensive stopper. Outside of Hendo, any defensive talent that the Bobcats have is based on instincts and not fundamentals (see: Tyrus Thomas, Bismack Biyombo). The Bobcats would benefit from a defensive veteran presence, regardless of that player's talent. Allowing Westbrook, Harden, and Durant to shoot a combined 29 of 42 from the field is unacceptable, no matter how hot they are.
Biyombo (6 points on 3/10 FG, 8 rebounds) struggled mightily against the Thunder's front line. The match up was intriguing. With Serge Ibaka, you saw how Biyombo performed against a long, athletic defender. With Kendrick Perkins, you saw how Biyombo performed against a strong, physical defender. I'd consider both of the aforementioned players to be top notch defenders despite very different styles, and it was a very welcomed experience. Biz isn't strong enough nor patient enough to excel against the best defenders that the NBA has to offer. He's a rookie, though, so patience is key.
Despite lackluster numbers, Tyrus Thomas looked good (6 points on 2/7 FG, 6 rebounds, 4 PF). He played predominantly at the four tonight, and had flashes of his former self on both ends. Offensively, he was careful to pick his spots. Defensively, he rotated well and challenged everything he could. He's not quite there yet, but he seems to be coming around.
Tonight's game was a humbling experience. The Thunder are the prototypical successful rebuild. It took them roughly four seasons to go from terrible to promising, and an additional year to go from promising to legitimately good. With Rich Cho at the helm, the Bobcats are likely to go down a similar path. Keep your expectations low, and your hopes high. Look for any glimmer of light in the darkness. This is undoubtedly a painful process that no fan wants to go through, but a process every fan is thankful for when the building is complete.
Anthony Davis is only a few months away. Keep your heads up.