Winning on the road in the NBA is hard. No matter the opponent. Against a good or bad team, winning away from home takes focus, energy, execution and sometimes, a little luck.
Sunday in Houston, the Thunder came up pretty much empty on all of the above.
An example of how the Thunder just weren’t themselves tonight: they went 15-23 from the free throw line. Not only is the percentage way off their league-leading number, but the attempts are low.
Yet, there they were with the ball in the hands of their best player with a chance to win the game. If Kevin Durant’s jumper as the buzzer drops, we’re all talking about how resilient, tough and gritty this Thunder team is. Instead, it came up just short and so did the Thunder, losing by a point.
Brooks drew up a pretty simple play with 3.9 seconds left. Thabo was inbounding and on the break, Russell Westbrook flashed at the ball. KD waited for the trash to clear, got a pick and received the ball at the top of the key. Shane Battier, who is a stellar defender, was right on Durant’s hip and after a couple dribbles, Durant rose from about 18 for a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer. Not the best look ever, but when you’ve got the ball in the hands of your star and he gets a semi-decent shot at a game-winner, I think you take it, make or miss.
Thing is, with Durant, despite him having yet another rough shooting night, I was as confident as ever that the ball would go down out of his hand and I had no doubt that’s where the ball should go. Unless Durant was blanketed, he’s got to be the man taking that shot.
I don’t think you can really excuse the loss, but I’m not really hurting from this one. Sometimes, you come out flat. Sometimes, you’re not yourselves. Sometimes, you just lose close games. To this point, Oklahoma City was 7-0 in games decided by six points or less. And it was very, very nearly 8-0.
- When KD was 2-9 from the floor and just missed back-to-back free throws, I tweeted, “Hey, does anybody know when Kevin Durant comes back for the Thunder? What’s that? That’s HIM?” Durant finished with just 18 points on 7-18 shooting. He’s struggling in some games, but tonight, he really just didn’t look like himself. He’s going to get going, don’t worry. It’s not even December yet. He’s spoiled us with insane percentages and efficiency numbers so it’s what we expect every, single night. I’m anxious for him to get back to the usual 31 points on 11-19 shooting games, but they’ll come. I’m positive.
- The Thunder was just plain lethargic in the first half. Yet somehow, they only trailed by eight going to halftime. Out of the break, OKC came out with energy and intensity, keyed almost entirely by Westbrook. He’s just an animal. His dunk on Shane Battier was the ultimate “LET’S FREAKING GO YOU GUYS” type of play and after that, the Thunder was at least focused and competing. Westbrook had 23 points (10-19 shooting), 10 assists and one earth-shattering poster of Battier.
- Five thoughts on the dunk: 1) Westbrook has had some awesome crams, but he’s also just missed a bunch that would’ve been HUGE. Tonight, he finished it right on Battier’s face. 2) I love the AHHHHHHHHH! 3) I can’t tell who that is that jumped on the Rocket bench and then went down the line after it, but that was hilarious to me 4) Also hilarious, James Harden’s little towel-waving move 5) Holy crap in a tightly woven basket.
- I thought this tweet from @dylanmgoforth was on point about Westbrook’s dunk: “They should retire that rim and send it to the hall of fame.”
- The irony of Westbrook’s dunk though was that Battier pretty much immediately knocked down three 3-pointers right after the slam. Of course Battier decided to break out of a huge shooting slump by hitting 4 3s tonight. Seems like that’s the way it works right now.
- The Thunder fought back and of course had a shot to win, but allowing a 9-0 run with five minutes left after tying the game was really bad. And the Rockets did it pretty much by beating the Thunder on the offensive glass. Serge Ibaka got beat a couple times by Jordan Hill and as a team, OKC gave up 16 offensive boards, a big difference in this game.
- Scott Brooks went with the patented “weird small lineup” to close the game. It was Westbrook (who ended up guarding Brad Miller), Hard, Sefolosha, Green and Durant. It kind of worked, but still, weird.
- Jeff Green had 15 points and seven boards and in typical Jeff Green fashion, hit a massive 3 with a minute left to cut Houston’s lead to three which gave OKC a chance. If Durant’s jumper falls, Green’s 3 would’ve been the key play of the game.
- I thought the Rockets were going to give OKC chances to make this a walkthrough. It actually was the opposite as Houston could’ve and really should’ve, been beating the Thunder much worse. OKC pretty much hung on in the first half. If the Rockets were a better scoring team, they could’ve went up by 20, easily.
- One issue with Durant’s scoring right now, is that of his 18 shots, 16 of them were jumpers from varying distances. He’s scoring very little at the rim right now. He had just one dunk and it came in transition. He needs some easy buckets, just like any good scorer does.
- Ibaka scored 12 of OKC’s first 14 points and finished with 16 on a perfect 7-7 from the field. In 23 minutes he also grabbed eight rebounds and what pretty good playing center tonight against the more finesse, outside 5 Brad Miller.
- I continue to like what D.J. White brings, no matter how little it may be.
- James Harden sort of showed a pulse in this one chipping in 10 points off the bench. He was just 3-8, but the 10 came in pretty crucial spots and helped keep OKC close. I’m ready for him to get to the consistent 12-15 point a night range though. We need that.
- Really, this game was pretty much lost entirely on the boards and at the free throw line. The Thunder outshot Houston 49.4 percent to 45.2 percent, but the Rockets hit 10 3s compared to OKC’s five. The Thunder turned it over just 10 times. Houston outboarded OKC 44-36 and again, had 16 offensive rebounds. Plus the eight misses at the line really hurt the Thunder.
Next up: Home versus the Hornets Monday night.