Image courtesy of William Bennett Berry.
It’s been another fantastic week, and no one can deny that. The Thunder have swept all four of their games, including revenge in Minnesota, another pounding of the Lakers, squeaking by Portland at home with some late defense, and a KD-Russ scorefest against Phoenix. But those wins have been more unorthodox than you think.
During the game against the Trail Blazers, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha were sitting out with injuries. Those injuries resulted in training camp invitee DeAndre Liggins being thrust into the lineup. Liggins played like a man possessed, exhibiting lightning quick defense, excellent offensive awareness, and an impressive ability to pressure.
His performance got me thinking. What are some of the better performances that we’ve seen from injury replacements in the Thunder’s past? Obviously, the Thunder have been blessed with an almost totally injury-free roster, which has been a huge contributor to their success. However, on those rare occasions where somebody gets the flu, contorts a quad, or drinks too many shots with Wayne Coyne, a benchwarmer has had to step in. Some have failed, but others have flourished.
This post is a chronicle of some performances you’ve probably forgotten. The list here focuses on performances in individual games, rather than over a long period of time. And it doesn’t necessarily focus on who replaced who tit-for-tat, but rather who was able to step up and fill the injured player’s role.
4. Thunder at Warriors, February 7th, 2012
Who’s Out: Thabo Sefolosha.
Thabo Sefolosha is probably the only Thunder player to have a serious injury since…..well, ever. In the 24 games he missed, Daequan Cook was the main guy to replace him, providing some level of defense and long-range ability. A lot of his nights were so-so, but against the Warriors, he really shined. Due to the fast paced nature of the game, he was able to run up to the arc for a lot of open threes and nail them. Yeah, that’s basically it, but he did score critical points in the fourth, causing a narrow Thunder victory.
3. Thunder vs. Pacers, March 2nd, 2011.
Who’s Out: Kendrick Perkins
This game is better known as the debut of Nazr Mohammed. Sure, the Indiana Pacers weren’t an impressive team by any means, barely scratching their way into the playoffs with a bad record. But they had some budding young post scorers in Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough. Meanwhile, the Thunder had just traded Nenad Krstic, leaving their front court consisting of Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, and a loopy log (Rookie Cole Aldrich). As a result of this player shortage, the Thunder often went small. This led to them getting killed by Dwight Howard’s Magic, and Andrew Bynum having a +16 +/- ratio in a Laker win.
In short, the Thunder needed a defensive big, and fast. Kendrick Perkins was still recovering from injury, and wouldn’t be available for at least a couple of weeks. In steps the quiet acquisition from the Charlotte Bobcats, Nazr Mohammed. He made an immediate impact, limiting his matchups to 2 points in his first two stints. The Thunder began to absolutely roll offensively, and the game was essentially over by half-time. He certainly wasn’t perfect, but he turned the Thunder from a low post embarrassment into a serious playoff team.
2. Thunder at Celtics, November 19th, 2010.
Who’s Out: Kevin Durant, Jeff Green.
I think by this point in his career, we had already known what to expect from Russell Westbrook. He was a great scorer, a decent enough passer, and a definite component of this team’s future. However, Jeff Green hadn’t really fallen off the map yet, so to lose both him and Durant in a game against the reigning Eastern Conference champions was devastating. Westbrook was a good player, but could he really lead the team when the going got tough?
He could, and then some. Against the toughest defensive point guard in the league in Rajon Rondo, he was able to scrounge points out of nowhere and account for a third of the team’s score. He was hitting tough jumpers, getting good position under the basket, and really limited Rondo’s distribution ability defensively. The result was a tough, gritty, defensive game that came out in the Thunder’s favor.
1. Thunder vs. Mavericks, March 2nd, 2009http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8jsyk
Who’s Out? Kevin Durant, Jeff Green
This one goes down as easily one of my favourite Thunder games of all time. Back in 2009, the Thunder struggled to a 23-59 record, regularly losing to bad teams and only giving slight hope at the end of the season. But just when things had started to pick up, the Thunder lost both Kevin Durant and Jeff Green to injuries. They were the best Thunder players at the time, with Russell Westbrook just a rookie and James Harden still playing at Arizona State.
Let’s run down the lineup for this game. Our starters were Nenad Krstic, Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha, Kyle Weaver, and Russell Westbrook. Our bench was Malik Rose, Damien Wilkins, Earl Watson, and Robert Swift. Now, taking that into consideration, if I told you that Russell Westbrook would only score 17 points that night, do you think the Thunder would emerge victorious against the championship contending Dallas Mavericks?
Well, they did. This game was just too beautiful for words. A late game explosion from Kyle Weaver, a current D-Leaguer, sealed the Thunder victory late. Somehow, Nenad Krstic dropped 26. It was like the game that defied convention. Anyway, just watch the highlights. Fantastic stuff.
Random Thunder Highlight of the Week:
Yeah, this highlight came in the middle of a blowout, but it felt absolutely magnificent at the time of its’ unveiling. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were in the midst of scoring all but 4 of the Thunder’s second half points (which would have been two if not for a meaningless last second Thabeet basket). Not only that, but the Thunder were actually struggling in the first half before the dynamic duo blew this game wide open. Hammer it down, KD.
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