Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Nick Collison….
Like the old Sesame Street game and song, “One of these things is not like the others.”
Collison may look out of place among those elite scorers, he averaged 21 minutes a game off the bench for the Thunder this past season. The classic veteran role players. But he fits in with the best of the Thunder on Sunday — not because he suddenly can shoot, but because his active defense on Zach Randolph was a key to the Thunder advancing to the conference finals. Where a bigger task may be awaiting him.
Single-game +/- stats can be deceptive, but the fact Collison was a +26 — the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies by 26 points in the 33 minutes he was on the floor — is pretty indicative of what he did.
“He just has a knack for making winning plays every time down court,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Collison. “It doesn’t matter if it’s offense or defense, he just comes up with big offensive rebounds, he comes up with great stops — he had a charge tonight and I think he had a block or two (three actually).
“His rebounding and his toughness on Zach, who is one of the best low-post scorers in the game and he is relentless, and Nick challenged him possession by possession. And that is what he’s about.”
Defensively Collison bodied up tight on Randolph — Serge Ibaka tried to do that as well but Collison is stronger and not as easily moved off his spot. Collison had three first half blocks on Randolph and that was part of the key that took the Grizzlies main offensive weapon out of the game. By the fourth quarter the Grizzlies had stopped looking for Randolph.
Collison also had 12 rebounds, four on offense. Again, he was physical and able to push his way into the spaces he wanted. Collison also finished with 8 points, all of his shots coming right at the rim. You don’t see him trying to do too much, Collison stays within himself.
In the next series, Collison — the longest tenured member of the Thunder — Collison is one of only two players currently on the roster who made the move from Seattle (Durant is the other) — is going to be asked to defend Dirk Nowitzki for stretches. To push Dirk off his spots, to contest, to just make like difficult.
And if he can do that — as much as anyone slows Dirk — the Thunder’s best postseason run since the move may reach new heights.