OKLAHOMA CITY – Derek Fisher missed shot after shot, game after game and faced down a streak like he’d never seen.
It was so bad, Fisher’s 2-of-6 shooting the previous two games before Thursday’s tip against the Spurs could actually be considered a hot streak after a hide-your-eyes 0-for-18 run over a six-game span.
But when San Antonio came to town and the Western Conference’s top seed out of reach with a loss, Fisher played his best game of the season.
And maybe the best one in four seasons. Instead of the Old Man and the 3, Fisher looked like the guy who helped the Lakers win five championships.
And instead of criticism, Fisher deserves some congratulations, at least for one night, anyway.
The reserve guard made 3-pointers the first four times he touched the ball. He finished with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting. It was the most 3-pointers he’s made in a game since 2009.
“To see that first one go in for sure gives you a little pick-me-up, but I think the way the ball was moving and the activity as a team on the defensive end,” Fisher said. “We were getting stops there in that second quarter. We were feeding off each other’s energy, and I thought that was big.”
Fisher’s second two 3-pointers of the half came during a span where the Thunder played their best ball of the night. A 12-3 spurt helped OKC to a 41-21 lead with less than eight minutes left.
What a game for Fisher, who played a season high 22 minutes in a win at Milwaukee before playing almost 15 against the Spurs. And while it was an uber-productive night for Fisher, it would be silly to think he’ll have that kind of game again anytime soon. Fisher had a total of nine points on 2-of-23 shooting the previous eight games.
“It’s one at a time and trusting that the ball will find me or the right guy if we move it the way we were, and that was really what felt the best about it,” Fisher said. “We have to continue to be that type of team that even if a guy is not making an open shot, if we’re moving the basketball, we’re pacing with trust, the ball will start to go in for you individually and as a team. I thought we did that for a lot of stretches tonight, and that’s something we’ll need to continue to do as we move forward.” Who’s Hot: Man, Russell Westbrook was impressive against the Spurs. He figured into eight of the first nine baskets of the game and finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Saturday against Milwaukee, Westbrook had his sixth career triple-double with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Westbrook has looked super-energized of late. He was particularly animated and engaged against the Spurs.
Who’s Not: Kevin Martin. Yikes, just a 1-for-6, invisible performance against the Spurs for two points. Great stat from Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: When Martin scores 15 points or more OKC is 34-8. He had four points in a loss to Minnesota on Friday and the Thunder lost. He had 17 the next night against Milwaukee and OKC won. Martin has to score for the Thunder to have some success.
1. Undoubtedly, OKC’s win over San Antonio was big, but the Thunder caught a huge break not having to face Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson. Meanwhile, it was pretty clear Tony Parker was hurt, too. The combination certainly didn’t guarantee a Thunder win, but it sure helped.
And on the same night the Thunder benefitted from playing a beat-up team, they may have caught another break when Denver’s Danilo Gallinari was injured Thursday. He’s likely done for the year with a torn ACL.
It will come down to San Antonio and the Thunder for the top spot in the West, but OKC has had a lot of problems with Denver this season, losing twice. Heading into the playoffs, the Thunder are healthy while their top competition is suffering. That’s a lucky break.
The win against the Spurs was good for the soul, but really, we didn’t learn too much other than the standings became a little tighter. Give me a healthy Parker, Jackson and Ginobili and then we can really evaluate whether this OKC team can handle the Spurs.
2. As good as the win was Thursday night against the Spurs, it pretty much is erased with a loss Friday night. The Thunder are tied with San Antonio in the loss column, but they face a tough Pacers team in Indianapolis. That’s two games in less than 24 hours. Meanwhile, the Thunder then come home to face basketball’s hottest team – the Knicks, winners of 10 in a row – on Sunday before hitting the road for three. The road trip includes games at Utah and Golden State, places the Thunder have already lost this season.
A loss against the Pacers (29-8 at home) would put the Thunder a full game behind the Spurs with six to play. San Antonio has road games left at Denver, the Lakers and Golden State and home games against Atlanta, Sacramento and Minnesota.
The Thunder own the tiebreakers against San Antonio and will be the top seed if they win out.
3. Everyone is celebrating a victory over the Spurs, but the best win of the week very well might have been Saturday at Milwaukee. The Thunder could have come into Thursday’s game on a two-game losing streak and fading fast. Instead, OKC rallied in the last nine minutes.
After falling behind by five points in the fourth quarter, the Thunder went on a 12-0 run. Sure, it’s Milwaukee, but it was on the road and it was a day after the Thunder got beat by a sub-par Minnesota team. This win deserves some credit. The Bucks’ top scorers Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis scored just 17 points. The two combine for an average of more than 37 per game.
Lose that game Saturday and we’re not even discussing the Thunder earning the top seed.
“The energy was great. I think our fans thought it was a playoff game already. They were so involved in the game from the start.”
– Coach Scott Brooks on the atmosphere Thursday
“That hurt us big time. You’ve got a game plan for everything, but when you have somebody go off like that and score that many points you don’t count on it. He got away from us.”
– San Antonio’s Tim Duncan on Derek Fisher
14: Number of free throws by Russell Westbrook on Saturday. Milwaukee had 15.
30: Blocks by Serge Ibaka in the past six games, including eight against Milwaukee on Saturday.
40: The magic percentage number for the Thunder. When teams shoot below 40 percent, OKC is 19-1 this season. The Spurs shot 39.8 percent Thursday.
90: Points by Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks the past two games. Anthony plays against Milwaukee on Friday and then is in Oklahoma City on Sunday. Durant and Anthony are the top two scorers in the league.
387: Number of consecutive games played by Westbrook. That’s the longest active streak in the league.
Tough stretch for the Thunder starting Friday in Indianapolis. OKC is home Sunday against the Knicks and then is at Utah on Tuesday and Golden State on Thursday. That’s four playoff teams in a row – five if you count Thursday’s game against San Antonio.
Tower of Power?
We’re about to find out how the Thunder will be viewed as they head into the final seven games of the season. This might be the toughest stretch of the season and OKC can’t afford to take a breath. If the Thunder hang on to the No. 1 seed, they will be the favorite to win the Western Conference.