After you’ve lost to a team at their place 11 straight times dating back to 2005 when the team was in another city, you’ll take a win no matter how you get it. Even if it had some ugliness to it.
First the good stuff. Kevin Durant was terrific (30 points, 10-17 from the field, 4-4 from 3), Russell Westbrook had a good overall game (23 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds) and Oklahoma City made the necessary plays late to seal away the game. Again it was free throw shooting that was big for the Thunder as OKC knocked down eight straight in the last 25 seconds.
The Thunder used two good runs to kind of separate themselves from the Rockets. The first came in the third quarter immediately after Jeff Green took an elbow to the face and had to leave the game. The Thunder stretched out to a 10-point lead by getting multiple stops and pretty much by scoring every trip. Then again late in the fourth, the Thunder funneled through KD and Westbrook created as OKC pulled ahead to an 11-point lead with under two minutes. Those two runs really are what made the difference.
Westbrook and Durant were obviously great, but Thabo and Nick Collison probably made the biggest difference in the game. Sefolosha’s defense (three blocks) was great as he kind of played rover with Kevin Martin out. He pulled down a career-high tying 13 rebounds and even contributed nicely on the offensive end with six points and three assists. Collison came in to try and check Luis Scola who was absolutely killing OKC. Serge Ibaka and Green tried to handle his fakes, spins and inside moves, but nobody was having any success. Collison did an absolutely terrific job, holding Scola to only three points in the fourth. Without that, OKC loses this game, no doubt.
But now some bad things. Green started off really well going 4-5 in the first quarter, but missed his next six shots. He responded well in the fourth as he went to the post again, going 2-4 in the quarter. He had 16 points which is good, but again, zero rebounds. Definitely a weird thing to see from your starting power forward. But it’s easier to overlook when your team outrebounds its opponent 49-35 and wins.
Also, the effort and defense in the last 30 seconds was horrible. The Thunder was completely content letting Aaron Brooks go to the rim for easy layups which extended the game and forced OKC to knock down free throws. The defensive effort overall tonight wasn’t good by any means, but it was at least passable. The defense in the last minute was seriously awful. And it could’ve cost the Thunder the game.
Instead, it’s a nice road win over a team OKC has had a lot of trouble with. The Thunder made some adjustments, made some plays and got great efforts out of a couple different guys. Some blemishes on this win for sure, but they’re easy to look past because in the end, OKC had more points than the other guy.
- Westbrook started the game 3-12, but finished 7-19. He hit four straight big free throws after starting 5-8 from the line. The lesson: Russell Westbrook is kind of clutch.
- Nenad Krstic was quietly really good. In 20 minutes he had 11 points and seven rebounds. He was good on the pick-and-pop and really gave OKC another good offensive option.
- Russ was hit with a technical after making a demonstrative gesture at an official. I love Westbrook’s emotion but sometimes he just gets pouty and pissy. He was missing layups and after every one was looking at an official to bail him out. That just bugs me.
- How big was Serge Ibaka in this one? 16 points on 8-9 shooting and six rebounds. He had the mid-range game going but was extremely active inside all night.
- OKC is now 14-3 in games decided by seven or less.
- After Eric Maynor hit Ibaka for an open jumper, Grant Long declared that Ibaka and Maynor’s chemistry was “legendary.”
- Scola is really, really good. But does it seem like he makes more lucky shots than any other player?
- And his hair seriously looks like the worst wig in the world. It’s like something you’d find in a drama classroom closet under a bunch of musky costumes.
- Despite Jeff Green not grabbing a rebound and missing some shots, he was actually pretty helpful in winning this game. He played some solid help defense and his post play was again good. More of that please.
- First time in eight games James Harden didn’t hit a 3. He was very quiet in this was going just 0-3 from the field (all 3s) but did go 8-8 from the line.
- Houston, 13-18 from the free throw line. OKC, 26-33.
- How was Shane Battier not called for an off-the-ball foul as he hugged Durant when OKC was trying inbound late?
- My least favorite whistle in basketball is when a player jumps into another guy when shooting. How is that a foul when the shooter created contact entirely? Westbrook did it to Jared Jeffries and got the call but it was just so ridiculous.
The shame is that the Thunder did put this thing away with three minutes left as the stretched out to a double-digit lead. It would’ve been nice for the starters to have at least gotten the last few minutes off instead of still having to stay locked in. With a big game against the red hot Magic coming tomorrow night, there’s a real possibility that there could be something left over from this game. Hopefully the home crowd will help carry the team as it’ll surely be a nice atmosphere for TNT, but the fact the Thunder let Houston come back to make it close is the only thing that keeps this from being a really nice win.
Next up: Orlando tomorrow night at home.