Considering the circumstances, considering the last 48 hours, considering what developed over tonight’s 48 minutes, considering what the Thunder were dealing with, this might’ve been the most emotional Oklahoma City Thunder game I’ve ever watched.
I don’t know what the future holds for this team this season. I don’t know what Game 4 holds. But the performance from the Thunder tonight was special. Yeah, they blew a 26-point first half lead. And they only won one of the four quarters. They showed holes, they had problems, they almost blew it.
But they won.
The last 12 minutes of Game 3 were about pure, unfiltered, raw survival. Bear Grylls watched this game and is nodding somewhere. I look forward to this game being on an episode of “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.” I could go on, but man, the Thunder clawed and scratched for their life tonight.
Even if the Thunder fall on their face in the next series against the Clippers or Grizzlies, I’m never going to forget this Game 3. This was special, something to remember. This team preaches heart, spirit and toughness. They showed all of it and more tonight. It was the perfect tribute to Russ. Five guys on the floor, playing their hearts and souls out for 48 minutes.
I didn’t know how tonight’s game would go. I thought every scenario was in play. Close loss, close win, blowout either way. It’s hard to know how a team is going to respond to losing a player as important as Westbrook.
But we all knew coming in Kevin Durant was going to have to do something, and he did. He scored 27 in the first half, and 41 for the game, tying a playoff career high. And he only sat for 45 total seconds. Durant wore down in the second half, but carrying an entire team gets tiring after a while. KD’s not Hodor here, people. Durant made only 4-14 from the floor the last 24 minutes, but his fourth and final make was a miracle 3 to go up 100-99 with 36 seconds left that was drilled into the back iron, bounced into the heavens before landing softly on the front of the rim, bouncing to the back iron again, then somehow dropped through. Touched by the hand of God, I think.
A lot of people are already drawing conclusions about the Thunder’s future, and what Game 3 means for them moving forward. Did the Thunder show signs of weakness? Are they just a shell of themselves now? The Rockets started the game 6-0, then the Thunder went on a 39-13 run to close the first quarter. The Thunder were obviously angry — as Perk’s opening pick on Patrick Beverley showed — and laid a haymaker of an emotional punch on Houston those first 12 minutes.
But when it got down to playing basketball, it was obvious the Thunder have some issues. The halfcourt offense bogged into “Save us KD Kenobi, you’re our only hope,” and there just weren’t good options outside of KD pulling jays from all over. Concern? Sure. But remember, this was the Thunder’s first game ever playing without Russell Westbrook. And the Rockets are still pretty good. Say the Thunder found a way to win this game in the exact same 104-101 fashion with Westbrook. Would you be freaking, or just glad they found a way to win, which is all you’re supposed to do in the postseason?
In a lot of ways, though, I think this might’ve been a perfect result for the Thunder. Let me count them:
1) For our sanity. It’s painfully obvious that the Thunder missed Russell Westbrook tonight. After the rocking, rolling start with Durant setting the world ablaze just to watch it burn, I was already envisioning the “Are the Thunder better without Westbrook?” chatter. But as the game developed, those questions were essentially eliminated.
2) On that same page, the Thunder definitely understand they need Westbrook. They knew that before, but if they had coasted through Game 3 running on that emotional high, they might’ve felt a little too good about themselves. It’s obvious they have to go back to the film room and work some things out. It’s obvious that guys like Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Martin have to do a better shot stepping up.
3) They won.
4) They’re up 3-0 now.
Clearly, moving forward for the Thunder, they can’t expect 47 minutes of this from Durant. In some ways, this is precisely what it will take for OKC to push through the West bracket, but it’s more the first half explosion type of thing, and less of the complete stallball iso in the second half. Durant will have to carry the burden, but to do it ever night will be a challenge. When he doesn’t, the Thunder will lose those games. They just have to hope he can do it four out of each seven.
And one more time against Houston.
- Allow me to note it: The Thunder aren’t done with the Rockets yet. Yeah, yeah, no one has ever come back from 3-0. But if there was ever a situation for it to potentially happen, this could be it. The Thunder have to sort themselves out still, and the Rockets have proven it — they don’t quit.
- There’s something about KD and good bounces. At this point, it isn’t luck. The one against the Mavs in Game 1 last year. The one against the Lakers in Game 2 last year. The one against the Mavs in KD’s 52-point night this year. It’s the patented Kevin Durant Bounce from God.
- Reggie Jackson in his first start? I give him an A. The only problem I had with him tonight is that he found himself on the bench for too long. He played 25 minutes, scoring 14 points with one assists and two rebounds. And hit two yuuuuge free throws to put OKC up three with eight seconds left.
- Derek Fisher actually performed quite well, at least considering my expectations. He hit some shots and while he gets screened FAR too easily, he plays some decent defense. But he played about four minutes too long in the fourth quarter. He played 24 to Jackson’s 25, and it appeared Brooks was going to finish the game with Fisher over Jackson. But with 5:04 left, Brooks came back with Jackson and it was extremely needed. Letting Durant run point is great, but eventually you need that secondary creator/ballhandler to attack the defense.
- When Durant took the game over in the first half, it was with Jackson on the bench, which meant KD ran point guard. It worked. But I’m not sure it’s something that can work for 45 minutes.
- The Thunder definitely slowed down into isolation for KD in the second half. OKC made only 12 buckets. But watch the tape again: Kevin Martin was set up for two VERY good looks that he came up short on. The Thunder ran a nifty pindown play for Ibaka with under two minutes left. Thabo Sefolosha went 1-6 from 3, and all six were very open. The Thunder executed a little better than I think we’re all going to give them credit for, based on the results, but a lot of the problem was just missing some shots.
- Tonight was only the fifth time in Kevin Durant’s career — including the postseason — that he’s attempted 30 or more shots.
- KD was cooking in the first half. In the second quarter, while he was ahead of Houston by himself 20-19, he took a charge on Chandler Parsons and screamed “AHH THIS IS MY CITY!” Yes, yes it is.
- Serge Ibaka played a massive game tonight, particularly on the glass. He finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but owned the paint on both ends for a lot of the game. Like Jackson, he should’ve played more. Ibaka needs more than 31 minutes.
- Oh yeah, KD grabbed 14 rebounds too and had four assists.
- Kudos to Ibaka on his defense on Carlos Delfino on that last shot. Ibaka, who is prone to bite on pump fakes, stayed disciplined on two of them, then contested well. Excellent job there.
- Kevin Martin scored 12 points tonight, all in the first half.
- Brooks went small a whole lot tonight, and when he went big, it was with Collison and Ibaka. Perk only played 16 minutes, all coming during his shifts to start the first and third quarters.
- OKC’s lineup data tonight is somewhat skewed because of Durant’s big run, but the best lineup was Fisher, Durant, Sefolosha, Ibaka and Perkins, who were a +15 in six minutes. The Thunder used 10 different combinations tonight, seven small, three big.
- Reggie Jackson paid a nice tribute to Westbrook by blowing an easy dunk in the third quarter.
- Between Garcia and Beverley, the Rockets lead the league in annoying feistiness.
- Garcia was spectacular tonight though. He hit four 3s and scored 18 points, and really took the matchup with Durant personally and challenged him. He almost was the difference tonight.
- DeAndre Liggins got six minutes, all in the first half.
- KD pulled a Beverley on Jeremy Lin, going for a steal as Lin crossed halfcourt to call timeout. Lin, who is struggling with a chest injury, grabbed at it and appeared to be in pain after Durant hit him.
- Lin started, but played only 18 minutes.
- Beverley was a non-factor tonight, mostly because of foul trouble. He was a little too aggressive with most of them, and committed some silly ones.
- The Rockets didn’t give shirts to the upper level. I found that strange.
- Without Russ, it honestly felt like tonight’s game should be canceled.
- That’s two games the Rockets have to feel like they should’ve won. Games 2 and 3 they took leads late in the fourth, only to watch it slip. That’s kind of a Thunder theme though, and it’s been one for a couple years now: They find a way. It’s the mark of a great group. They just find a way.
- I think KD’s 3 just now finally dropped through.
Next up: Game 4 in Houston on Monday.