Oklahoma City lost to a good Houston Rocket team 95-90 on the road tonight to drop to 13-13. At one point the Thunder was down 17, but they fought and clawed back to get it to one at one point. Honestly, it was a pretty good game. Especially coming off a a tough game the night before.
But I felt serious frustration in the third quarter. Like the kind of frustration where you’re moving things out of arms reach because one more missed jumper, one more defensive breakdown and something is getting thrown. Missed shots, lazy defense, bad rebounding. I don’t care if you’re tired and flat, there’s no excuse to forgo effort. I was planning on writing a scathing, upset recap just blasting the lack of effort. No excuse for it. You may get beat, but don’t give up. Play with some pride.
And they did exactly that. The last three minutes of the third were going to be the most important of the game. If the Thunder could get it to single-digits, they might have a chance. They did exactly that, cutting the Rocket lead to nine heading into the money period. They came out in the fourth with good energy. They fought. They clawed. They played the way they should have the first 34 minutes. It all culminated to Oklahoma City having a legitimate shot to win this game. Really, a game they didn’t have any business being in.
Regardless, I was still frustrated by the final buzzer. Here are 10 things about this game that made me want to pile drive an infant:
1. Down four with a minute left after a monster Kevin Durant 3, Oklahoma City needed a stop to give itself a chance to win. One stop and the Thunder could make things interesting. And they got it. The ball rotated to Aaron Brooks and he missed a jumper with 45 seconds left. But the Thunder didn’t get the rebound. Time melted off the clock. With 20 seconds left, the Trevor Ariza missed a contested jumper. BUT THE THUNDER DID NOT GET THE REBOUND. See, here’s the thing about getting a stop. You play defense, you get them to miss. BUT YOU HAVE TO REBOUND THE BALL AS WELL. Frustrated.
2. After outrebounding the Rockets 17-7 in the first quarter (zero offensive for Houston) and 26-19 at the half (five offensive for the Rockets), the final margin was 47-45 in favor of OKC, but the Rockets finished with 17 offensive rebounds. FRUSTRATED.
3. Oh, 6’6 Chuck Hayes (who is a nice player mind you), had 15 boards, eight of which were offensive. Frustrated. You get the idea.
4. Kevin Durant did not attempt a single free throw this evening. Think about that for a second. Zero. And it’s not like he didn’t get calls. He was just never fouled in the act of shooting.[quote]
5. Oh, and KD 6-18 from the floor and scored just 13 points. Tack that one on there. When KD plays bad, I feel physical pain. It hurts me.
6. Houston left the door open by missing eight free throws in the second half and 10 for the game. But OKC never capitalized. And in most circumstances, probably didn’t rebound the miss anyway.
7. Trevor Ariza made nine straight shots at one point in the first half, including five 3s. He had 31 for the game, but just eight in the second half. I guess that’s not really a frustration thing, but without Ariza’s sharpshooting in the first half, OKC probably leads going into the locker room.
8. Just like last time, Houston took 12 more shots than OKC. Oh yes, the Thunder outshot Houston by three percent, but when you shoot more, you typically make more.
9. A good example of how sometimes Russ doesn’t always “feel” the game. With about 5:45 left he caught a swing from Harden and was open for 3. It was a catch, in rhythm, with an open look. Instead, he put it on the floor, let Nick Collison come and screen for him, dribbled at the top of the key for a second and then hoisted a 20-footer. You HAVE to take the first look. If you’re not going to really improve your look, take the one in rhythm. It’s the main reason Westbrook struggles shooting. He doesn’t take the rhythm shot, he takes the off balance, forced shot. I have no doubt he’ll start to understand this at some point, but it hurt him on more than one occasion tonight.
10. Just one more time for emphasis, REBOUNDING.
Again, the resiliency OKC showed to come back from 17 down was admirable. The team could have packed it in and just waited for the final buzzer. But the second unit played really well, as well as Jeff Green who was fantastic. Russell Westbrook made some crucial plays in the third. The Thunder had a chance to win this one but didn’t make the plays. It’s not like I’m going to go put on a black jumpsuit and run onto I-35 at night, but with a few plays here and there, OKC wins a game it shouldn’t have. Which would have been really nice.
- Serge Ibaka ladies and gentleman. The line for the fan club starts right behind me. He had 10 points on 5-5 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots in just 23 minutes. He’s going to be getting 30 a night soon and potentially sending Nenad Krstic into extreme role player mode. You watch.
- I love Westbrook going to the rim. He’s not a great finisher, but he’s so much more effective when he enters the lane with a purpose. That’s a no-brainer, I know, but with a little more discretion, he could put up nice percentages. He just gets so caught up in the moment and desperately wants to make a difference. I don’t fault him for that because you want that kind of desire in a player. But you’ve got to harness it. And I truly believe he will eventually. But you can’t try and shoulder the load by yourself every time, especially when you’re supposed to be the distributor.
- The Thunder’s second unit is starting to become a strength. Livingston is playing pretty well. Nick Collison is solid as a rock. James Harden is obviously awesome. And Ibaka is bringing a great presence with his energy. Once they exited in the second quarter, the Rockets went on a 9-0 run. OKC’s bench outscored Houston’s 31-17.
- How about Ibaka’s STUFF on Chase Budinger? It was an absolute spike. Serge threw it literally straight down. Insert any variety of “Chase Budinger actually played volleyball” jokes here.
- Speaking of awesome plays, James Harden’s cram on David Anderson was something that made you rewind, watch, rewind, watch again, freeze for a second, rewind and watch again. I can’t wait until it’s on YouTube. I’ll be favorite-ing it immediately. But Harden’s not athletic. He’s slow and boring. Not athleticism here. Nope. Not any. Keep thinking that, NBA. And then James will come out of nowhere AND STUFF IT FROM THE HEAVENS. Can you tell I loved that flush?
- Ibaka is one of those “Chew on the mouthpiece, but never actually put it in your mouth” guys. As strong as my unbridled affection is for Chewblocka, I must admit this annoys me.
- Jeff Green is showing a legit post game.He’s becoming a real player. If he continues to use that post game and develop it, he could be a real nice player. Like, a REAL nice player. I counted four times he backed his man down and scored on the block. He’s got nice touch, nice hands and good feet. If he continues to progress there, he could score 20 a night. Seriously.
- As seriously bummed I was about Kevin Durant’s poor game, you’ve got to realize great scorers go through these stretches. Even with his 27 against Detroit, he was 7-17 from the floor and didn’t really look like he had his jumper. It’ll be back soon enough. There’s no question about that. He’ll drop a 40 spot any night now. The fact the team is even in these games that he’s not playing well is something to be encouraged about.
- Aaron Brooks, who is one of the nicest point scorers in the league, went 2-15 from the floor for just five points. Thabo and Russ both guarded him, with Russ drawing most the duty. That’s not something to ignore. And you know, Russ played a decent game. He took some bad shots for sure. But 15 points, seven assists, six rebound and just two turns is a quality performance any way you slice it.
This was a game about stops and by stops I mean COMPLETE stops, where you get the rebound after the miss. OKC just could never string together three or four in a row. If that happens, the Thunder wins this one. Of course, this would have been a good one to steal. It would have made everything feel a lot better with two VERY tough ones ahead. The reality we have to face is, is that this team will probably come back to OKC at 13-15. That’s OK though. These aren’t the games the Thunder will make their headway. The schedule softens soon and some wins will be there. Finish the month strong after this stretch.
But even still, they’re still going to play the games in Phoenix and L.A. Nobody had tacked a win on for the Suns and Lakers yet. It’s unlikely, but nothing is concrete.
Next up is the Lakers Tuesday night at the Staples Center on NBA TV.