Blog Entry

Oklahoma City is getting an early mental test

Posted on: January 8, 2012 10:37 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 10:40 pm
Posted by Royce Young

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Three nights, three wins.

That's what the Thunder accomplished with an easy 108-96 win over the Spurs Sunday, but there was a little deeper meaning to it. It wasn't just a win over a team Oklahoma City had lost six consecutive games to. It was a testing ground for something the Thunder haven't had to deal with since their rise as a Western contender -- a major injury to a key rotation player.

A night after losing backup point guard Eric Maynor to a season-ending ACL tear, the Thunder were left to find a new answer behind All-Star Russell Westbrook. Would it be Royal Ivey, the steady veteran? Just more minutes for Westbrook? Moving super sixth man James Harden for some time out front?

Or just hand the keys to a rookie taken in last June's draft? As it is in Oklahoma City, next man up.

Reggie Jackson -- yes, Reggie Jackson, real name -- stepped in for Maynor in a big way scoring 11 points and dishing out four assists. Head coach Scott Brooks didn't baby him along either. Jackson came in right at the time Maynor normally does and played Maynor's usual fill of minutes. And in those nine minutes spanning the end of the first quarter to the middle of the second, the Thunder were a plus-10 on the Spurs.

“I thought he did well,” Brooks said. “I thought he did a really good job of picking his spots and running the team.”

Said Harden: "[Jackson] was very good. He's got a long way to go but he made all the right plays, made shots and got into the lane. Over time, he'll get better and he'll get a feel for the game."

Some of you might be thinking, "So what, a backup point guard? Call me when Kevin Durant gets hurt." Thing is, the Thunder's bench has become one of its most valued weapons. With Harden, plus-minus machine Nick Collison and Maynor, the Thunder had at least one of the top three second units in basketball. That time during the early second quarter and early fourth when both teams have most of their benches in were times the Thunder could really take control of games.

So without a major part of that group, it was a legit question to wonder if the Thunder had lost a potential championship piece. And they still might have, but the early returns on Westbrook's backup's backup were very good. Jackson played under control, played confident and played smooth. It's one game and the key to any backup point man is consistency, especially when you're doing it behind someone as erratic as Westbrook. But Jackson made a strong case for claiming that role for at least the rest of this year.

For a young group like the Thunder though, part of the question with a loss like Maynor was the psyche of the team. They battled back Saturday night after Maynor left the game against Houston and won on the road. But how would they respond on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back sans one of their closest friends? The players were clearly shaken when Maynor had to be literally carried off the floor by Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

"The whole season is now for Eric," Harden said. "It's a tough loss. We were all sad. We got to spend some time with him last night at his house just giving some comfort and showing him how much we care."

But injuries happen and you have to move on. Not an easy thing to do, but maybe playing a third game in three nights was a good thing for this young group. Instead of dwelling on what happened to their buddy, the Thunder just got to pick up the pieces, stop thinking and play ball.

You've got to be mentally tough to contend for trophies. Whether it's a media firestorm over your two stars having an alleged altercation on the bench or one of your key players being lost with an ugly injury, you have to block it all out and just keep playing. It's been an early test for the Thunder and right now, they're passing. The season isn't even a month old and the Thunder have already been through a lot. And so far, it looks like it might just be making them stronger.

Since: Nov 12, 2006
Posted on: January 9, 2012 2:02 pm

Oklahoma City is getting an early mental test

The Spurs don't have a superstar.  They've had a couple over the years - Duncan and Robinson, and even Gervin if you go back far enough.  But nobody on that team is a superstar at this point in their careers. 

It was an excellent series for the Thunder.

Since: Nov 12, 2006
Posted on: January 9, 2012 1:59 pm

Oklahoma City is getting an early mental test

Surprised that there was no mention that Maynor was the Thunder's best point guard at several points during the playoffs last year while Westbrook was going through his emotional/ego/pouting issues.  What he brings to the team is a pure point guard's game, and it's something they need often given Westbrook's volatility.  It will be interesting to see if Jackson can bring the same kind of game to the floor, because I remember him looking for his own opportunities first in college. 

Since: Oct 23, 2006
Posted on: January 9, 2012 11:58 am

Oklahoma City is getting an early mental test

Let's temper the enthusiasm. 
It was 3 games, but it was the same two team for 2 of the 3 games.  It essentially was a level playing field for both Houston and OKC.  The better teams should win if things are level.

It would have been cooler had it been 3 diffrent teams.  That would have been impressive.  Changing the style and familiarity each night.

The Spurs were also playing a back-to-back.  They were without Manu Ginobili.   I would think any team could be another team at HOME without their best player and superstar.

Since: Jan 9, 2012
Posted on: January 9, 2012 11:31 am
This comment has been removed.

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Since: Nov 30, 2007
Posted on: January 9, 2012 4:51 am

Oklahoma City is getting an early mental test

Thunder a top 3 bench? would be kind of cool to see you guys rank the bench of every team!

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