You just really can’t ever doubt Kevin Durant. Even on nights where he looks off and has lost his touch, he always possesses the ability to come back. It’s like his superpower — he can summon his powers at any moment.
With Oklahoma City a bit on the brink, Durant scored the Thunder’s last 13 points including a jumper with 22 seconds left to put Oklahoma City up a point to survive a difficult game in Houston, 98-95.
The Thunder played maybe the worst eight minutes of basketball I’ve seen from them since the P.J. Carlesimo era to open the third quarter, watching an undermanned Rockets team go on a 17-6 run to start the period and extend out to a 12-point lead. There were massive defensive lapses, failings to get back in transition and just sloppy, ugly offense.
It looked like the Thunder were about to sleepwalk to a bad loss in Houston, but that’s when Russell Westbrook woke up the team. He scored 11 straight points in the third, sparking a 12-0 run that tied the game 72-72 heading to the fourth and kept OKC breathing. It was vintage Westbrook. He had his aggressiveness perfectly bottled, taking smart jumpers, attacking wisely and understanding when it was his time to step up. And then he knew when to get out of the way in the fourth. Westbrook’s second half against the Rockets is the best 24 minutes of basketball yet this season.
It was quietly a wise move by Scott Brooks to let Westbrook breathe a bit in the third. He sat Durant and let Westbrook take charge as Option A for about six minutes. Sometimes Westbrook needs that ability to just let loose without having to think about doing his normal duties of setting up teammates and playing point guard. Sometimes he just needs to be Russell Westbrook. A game like this is the perfect example of how valuable Westbrook is to this team. KD didn’t have it going and Westbrook was able to step up and get the Thunder through Durant’s rough spell. You need that second scorer that can bail you out.
Beating a team twice in a 24-hour span isn’t easy. Especially when you consider this:
Only one other team on a back-to-back-to-back has won the second game yet. The Thunder cruised to an easy one over the Rockets Friday and with a quick start Saturday, it looked like OKC would do it again. Then they fell asleep at the wheel a bit, but had it in them to gut out a solid win.
- The Thunder winning is nice, but it feels like a loss. Early in the fourth quarter, Eric Maynor went down with what looks to be a major knee injury. I just feel sick. Maynor has always been one of the biggest pieces to this team just because of his consistent steady play behind Westbrook. There’s no official word on his status, but I would think OKC is going to be without him for a while. Good thing Presti drafted Reggie Jackson, I guess.
- At the time of Maynor’s injury, OKC was leading by five. Right after it, the Rockets went on a 6-0 run to take the lead. The Thunder were clearly trying to shake it off. Harden sat on the bench with his head down. KD was obviously upset. It has to be a hard thing to watch one of your best friends go down and have to be carried off the floor. But it says something about OKC’s mental toughness to be able to bounce back. I wouldn’t have blamed them one bit if Houston had reeled off a 30-0 run after that happened.
- How about Nazr Mohammed? Seventeen big points off the bench in just 18 minutes. At one point in the third, Mohammed had 17 and Durant 14.
- To start the game, the Thunder outrebounded Houston 16-1. After that, the Rockets outrebounded OKC 40-28 the rest of the way.
- The Rockets really lived off mid-range jumpers for most of the game. Patrick Patterson, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin — that’s where Houston got most of their offense from. Once OKC decided to finally start closing on them, they tightened up the defense.
- I’m a supporter of Harden starting, but I will say this having watched these last two games with Thabo starting: There’s a different kind of confidence with the team it looks when Thabo starts. It’s almost like the team sees it as it’s supposed to be with Thabo on the floor. The defensive energy is good and everything is in place.
- Serge Ibaka was playing pretty well in this one but Scott Brooks chose to go with Nick Collison down the stretch on Scola. It’s obvious that Brooks just trusts Collison more. When he has a specific matchup or a guy that needs to be stopped inside, Brooks goes with Collison. Can’t argue with it as Collison did a great job on Scola down the stretch.
- The back-to-back 3s from Harden early in the fourth were absolutely huge.
- My favorite play of the game: Perk got caught in a switch on Kevin Martin after Thabo fell down. Martin wanted to take Perk baseline but couldn’t get around him. Martin probed him three times and eventually had to kick it out but threw it away for a backcourt violation.
- Westbrook beat Samuel Dalembert in a jump ball. That is all.
- Durant finished a runner with his left hand. After he did it, he actually looked at his hand as if he was shocked. I can tell you I was. KD’s left hand has always been a big weakness of his.
- No surprise here: No glasses for Daequan Cook tonight.
- Assists take two people to complete and Westbrook did a nice job at times setting up a teammate only to see him miss, but I’d like to see a double-digit assist game from Russ sometime soon. In the first nine games last year, Westbrook had three games with at least 10 assists. The most he’s had yet in a game this year is eight. He’s not playing bad or anything, but that aspect of his game is lacking a bit right now.
- KD’s passing you guys. KD’s passing. That one he bounced between three defenders to a baseline cutting Thabo? Gorgeous.
- Westbrook and Durant combined for 52 points. The other three Thunder starters? A total of six.
- I’m a bit torn on if Westbrook should be taking wide open kick-out 3s. He drilled the first one he took tonight, but missed the second (on the second he was like four feet behind the 3-point line too for some reason). On one hand, if you’re open and capable of making that shot, you should probably take it. On the other, while Westbrook’s 3-point shooting improved some late last season, I don’t think it’s good enough to let him fire away at will.
- Goran Dragic looks like such a Goran Dragic.
- Speaking of, nice pass by Dragic with the Rockets trailing by three in the final seconds. I have no idea what he was doing. He had an open look from deep, passed on it to take a wide open layup and then at the last second kicked it out to no one in particular.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Someone put a magic finger on that basket for Scola tonight.”
Next up: San Antonio at home Sunday.