It didn’t garner as much fanfare and Cupcake-palooza on Saturday, but the Oklahoma City Thunder played its second consecutive game against a person instrumental to the team earning its lofty perch near the top of the professional basketball world in the past decade. And like Kevin Durant, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks wanted to get this win against his former employer, but definitely was much more understated than KD and his new teammates in Golden State.
Brooks’ Wizards, like they’ve done over the past two months at the Verizon Center, barely let its opponent into the game, building as much as a 34-point lead in the third quarter before cruising to a 120-98 win over the Thunder, Washington’s 19th win in its last 20 home games. All five starters for the Wizards scored in double figures, led by Markieff Morris’s 23 points.
Was tonight a small measure of revenge for Brooks, who spent seven seasons as head coach in Oklahoma City until being relieved of his duties after the 2015 season? Not really, at least on the surface. Like a seasoned coach would respond, tonight’s win was a good win because…it was a win.
“It’s nice to beat them, but, hopefully, we’re going to hopefully play well and do the same thing Thursday night in Indiana,” said Brooks postgame. “That would be a nice win. They’re all nice. It’s not easy to get. Tonight, at times, it looked like it was going pretty good for us. But, still, it takes a lot of work to put in to have a good game and our guys are doing it every night.”
But not every night is playing your old employer. Brooks did acknowledge that the success he’s having in Washington is, in some way, attached to the overwhelming success he had in the Sooner State.
“It’s obvious I had a great experience [in Oklahoma City],” Brooks said. “I had a lot of good players to coach. They put me in this position that I’m in now, so I’m thankful for that.”
Washington was never really under threat in the contest, once again completing a game in which it did not trail at any point in it. After shooting 63 percent in the first half on its way to 67 points and a 13-point halftime lead, Washington started the second half on a 24-3 run to turn the much-anticipated contest into a rout. The highlight of the run came from John Wall, who, on a 2-on-1 fast break, put a bounce pass between his legs to Otto Porter Jr., who soared in for a one-handed slam. Both Wall and Porter had double doubles, with Wall racking up 15 points and 14 assists and Porter contributing 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Washington’s ability to put away games at home early is quickly becoming one of the team’s most recognizable trademarks this season.
“I think so, yeah,” said Wall in responding to whether he believes he can sense when the Wizards are breaking a team’s will. “We know there is a lot of game still left, we are playing well, we got a lot of stops in a row, got out in transition, just kept getting stops and scoring and scoring.”
The other star point guard in the contest, Russell Westbrook, did not get going in arguably his worst game of the season. After putting up 35-point, 14-rebound, 11-assist triple double in their previous meeting in November, Westbrook was held to 17 points on 5-of-19 shooting. He also only racked up four rebounds and four assists, as he only played 5:40 of third quarter before sitting out the rest of the game after it got out of hand.
Westbrook didn’t believe that it was Washington’s defense that caused him to have such an off night.
“I was doing what I wanted,” said Westbrook. “I just missed.”
Westbrook also said he wasn’t sure if the team had a letdown tonight after playing in such a charged atmosphere two nights ago against the Warriors, but his head coach alluded to the fact that it was a legitimate concern.
“I don’t know if I’d use the word hangover but I think I made the comment before the game; Someone asked me about the emotional part and I was worried about it, you know, I was,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “We talked about it and we were not at the level that I’ve seen our guys at before. I’m not for excuses because I think that’s what this NBA season is, it’s 82 games. I think as a player, that’s the hardest part as you play 82 games; Can you come back and really be focused and locked in and play at the emotional level that you’re capable of. We were not there [tonight].”
The Wizards ended up shooting 57.5 percent (42-of-73) and scored over 100 points for a 21st consecutive game. Washington’s exorbitance as it pertains to its scoring is something Brooks hopes doesn’t fade away anytime soon.
“Hopefully, I don’t mess them up,” Brooks said in answering whether the high-octane offense is sustainable. “They’ve been great. Our guys are good. They can score, they move the ball. John [Wall]’s speed, Bradley [Beal]’s ability to make plays, Otto [Porter]’s a knock-down shooter, Kieff [Markieff Morris], March [Marcin Gortat] is a great roller, our bench has done a great job of coming in…We’re going to keep working and keep challenging our guys to get better.”
After Brooks’ postgame press conference, Porter was asked whether there was a little extra motivation, given the opponent and the current head coach’s past ties to OKC. Some of the whole truth might have been revealed.
Just some of it.
Oh, definitely,” said Porter about wanting to win his for coach. “Anybody that plays against their former team, we try to get the win for them.”
Coach Brooks included.