The Heat finally put an end to the near two-month run, holding the Thunder to just 93 points. The Heat scored only 75, though.
There have been two remarkable things about the Thunder's scoring binge: (1) Russell Westbrook, just in general, who notched his 10th triple-double of the season with 12 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high tying 17 assists; and (2) Kevin Durant only appeared in five of those games.
A longstanding gripe about the Thunder has been their lack of offensive ingenuity, that they seem to waste the transcendent skill sets of two of the most powerful scoring players in the world. (Nevermind that the Thunder have ranked in the top eight the past four seasons in offensive efficiency, and top four in three of those.) The Thunder often stagnate and stall, relying on isolation sets that really come down to whether Westbrook or Durant can make a tough shot. For the most part, it has been a pretty successful scheme, considering the results. But it has always seemed like the Thunder were leaving offense on the table, not taking full advantage of what they could do.
It's the reason that Scott Brooks and his staff began an offensive remodel, starting with the Thunder's summer league team, and into training camp in October. The idea is to create more of a flow system, with increased player movement, passing and weakside actions. Actually implementing it has been a challenge, because of all the injuries the Thunder have dealt with, along with the massive shake up at the trade deadline (four major rotation players weren't with the team in camp).
So where has this offensive eruption come from?
"Making baskets," Brooks said, without a tone of sarcasm in his voice. "We've got a lot of moving players that can score. The guys that we brought in, obviously Enes [Kanter] and D.J. [Augustin], those guys can score.
"We've had some things we wanted to do to start the season. Obviously things changed, but Russell, our guards are playing well, our bigs are rolling, passing," he said. "We're passing the ball much better, since January on. Obviously when you have more players to add to that offensive package, it helps."
Brooks is always one to deflect credit, and while he deserves a lot of it here for keeping a Thunder team together despite an incredible stream of injuries and roster turnover, so much of the improvement has been in the upgraded personnel. Kanter has been a revelation as a pick-and-roll buddy for Westbrook (39 of Kanter's baskets have been set up by Westbrook, 13 by the rest of the Thunder roster), but has also provided OKC a low-post scorer to settle possessions with.
On Sunday, Kanter finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds, with Westbrook setting up six of his 12 buckets. That's Kanter's ninth double-double since joining the Thunder. In the Thunder's seven-year history in OKC, they'd never had a center register a 20-10 game; Kanter has five already with the Thunder.
"We're implementing new sets by the day to figure out how use his best post-ups, how he likes to catch them, and where he likes to catch on the move, if he likes to catch from a diagonal pick, or a cross screen, or a rip screen," Brooks said. "We just have to figure that out as we see him play in games, but I think he's done a good job and Russell's done a good job finding him."
The Thunder installed a deadly sidescreen-and-roll action with Kanter and Westbrook a couple of weeks ago that has compromised many a defense since. It puts an incredible amount of pressure on the defense, forcing them to make snap decisions, all while Westbrook is zooming at you at full speed. Westbrook's development as the next evolution of a scoring/playmaking point guard is the heart of it all, and since early February has found a special balance between it all.
Add additional weapons such as the sharpshooting Anthony Morrow on the weakside, and the attacking ability of Dion Waiters, plus the offensive rebounding and finishing of Steven Adams, the Thunder have an arsenal at the disposal of Westbrook. They're No. 2 in the NBA in points per 100 possessions since Feb. 1, but how much longer can they sustain that without Durant for likely the rest of the season?
"Do what we doing. Just continue to do what we're doing, Waiters said, pointing at Westbrook's locker. "And it starts with him."