With three minutes left in the third quarter, Oklahoma City led by nine points. And in my notes I wrote down, “big three minutes here.” Because this game was going to swing one way or the other. Either it was going to go the way of the Philadelphia game and get closer than it should be, or the Thunder was going to put away a lesser opponent.
And heading to the fourth after those three minutes ticked off, the Thunder held a 14-point lead. Ball game, essentially over.
In fact, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha checked out of the game late in the third and never had to re-enter. The Thunder’s second unit stretched the lead to as wide as 20 and finally, OKC took care of business the way they’re supposed to. Those terrific games against the Jazz and Blazers are a lot of fun, but my heart needed a rest and thankfully, OKC gave it one tonight.
Really, this game had the look that the Rockets were going to be fighting to hang in for most of it. The Thunder started the game with a flurry of energy, hitting shots, blocking shots and running the floor. The first quarter was really some of the most focused and on point play I’ve seen from OKC this season. Russell Westbrook immediately was in set-up mode from the tip, looking for teammates and moving the ball. He had five assists in the first 12 minutes and finished with 12 for the game. Nate Jones made an excellent point how Westbrook’s focus to involve teammates rubbed off on his mates and therefore had them sharing the ball.
Everyone was making the extra pass and best of all, it was the correct pass. Durant dished off two beautiful assists, one to Eric Maynor for 3 and another to Ibaka inside for a layup. For the game, OKC finished with 26 assists (season-high), but really, it was better than that. Before the game, I hoped to see a consistent 48 minutes of play where the Thunder really clicked. I definitely got my wish.
- Serge Ibaka… just wonderful. 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in just 24 minutes. He had the jumper working again, but his interior defense was big time. This is the fifth straight game Ibaka has registered at least three blocks.
- I think we’ve found our sharpshooter from outside. Eric Maynor! After going 2-3 against Utah, Maynor was there for the kick-out two more times for KD in this one, going 2-3 again.
- Russell Westbrook was simply fantastic. Here’s how good he is: While trying to set up teammates and focus on sharing, he still put in 24 points. And how about that steal from Kyle Lowry after he had is taken from him? So Westbrook. You dare take it from me? GIVE ME IT BACK.
- Durant was OK, but that’s all he had to be. He just played 30 minutes, scoring 24 points, including 17 in the first half. KD only took one free throw and was 11-21 from the floor.
- Having Nick Collison back is so, so nice. The first thing I noticed was Collison’s pick and roll defense. It’s exquisite. He communicates so well and feels that better than anyone on the team. Plus, his screens for KD’s curls are just terrific. Never leave us again, Nick.
- Yeah, my heart definitely stopped when KD went down in the first quarter.
- Cole Aldrich was in a suit tonight. I don’t know why.
- This is the first game in the last four tries that OKC hasn’t allowed its opponent to score 100. The Thunder held Houston to 46.8 percent (which is still a good percentage), but the second half defense was noticeably better. The Rockets could make anything outside of the paint, which was definitely helpful.
- 17 turnovers for the Rockets to OKC’s eight. Definitely a big stat in this one.
- How about D.J. White! Again, he saw meaningful minutes, but really put up a nice effort in 19 minutes. He finished with 12 points and three boards and provided some good play in key moments when Ibaka was in foul trouble. Maybe that’s why Serge is developing that jumper so well. D.J. White is teaching the art of it.
- James Harden has a quality night. He’s coming around, slowly breaking out of his little sophomore slump. I’m not worried about him yet because he’s in an awkward place of figuring out how he fits into the rhythm of a game every night. Not easy for a young player.
OKC was in control early, let Houston get back in the game and then re-asserted itself and made this one a walk. Which was definitely nice. This is the first time this season the Thunder took care of business in an easy, non-stressful fashion. I think they’re straightening things out as we go along. Winning in a solid way is almost as important right now as beating a good team on the road. Almost.
Next up: OKC heads to Boston Friday to play the Celtics.