Well, that was strange.
Here’s your game: The Rockets scored 73 points in the first half, hitting 12-20 from 3. They had 32 points in the first quarter, and erupted for 41 in the second. The Thunder kept pace with 59 of their own, but the perimeter defense was embarrassing and it appeared Oklahoma City was well on its way to a fourth straight road loss.
Second half: The Rockets scored 19 total points — 10 in the third, nine in the fourth — and went 0-14 from 3.
From 73 to 19, that’s the biggest point discrepancy in NBA history. Nineteen points ties a record for fewest points allowed in a half. Think about this: The Rockets had 73 points after 24 minutes, and barely cracked 90. Regression to the mean, or vicious Thunder defense? A little of both, I’d say.
Either way, that was something else. And much needed for the Thunder. Faced with losing a fourth straight and dropping six out of 10 for the first time since 2009, the way the Thunder got their act right after halftime shows a lot about the character of the team. So many scream and yell about Scott Brooks and how he doesn’t adjust in-game. Was the differential of going from 73 to 19 points an adjustment, or was it just the Thunder playing better? Depending on who you want to give credit to, and keep it from, will shade your feelings on that one. Me? I don’t especially care, because the important thing is that the Thunder played a better basketball game and ended up with more points. They planted the seeds to play well against the Grizzlies on Tuesday and eventually carried over to this one.
The defense was spectacular, but there’s this too: Durant gave his now customary 36 (how insane is it that 36 points is becoming routine for him?), but Serge Ibaka was tremendous with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. Reggie Jackson was very solid with 23, four assists and six steals. The bench wasn’t especially great, but the minutes from Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and Nick Collison were all mostly good. Durant got his help, the Thunder defended, and the team played well as a whole. Simple as that.
Without question, this is the Thunder’s best win of the season, non-Russell Westbrook division. They played the way we’ve all known they’re capable of, which kind of justifies a lot of the frustration we’ve all felt watching them struggle the past few weeks. Their margin for error is slim, and they’re going to need crazy defensive efforts like this, but this is the team that was supposed to have improved from an offseason of learning from life without Russ. There were a few minor tweaks by Brooks — that Jackson, Lamb, Durant, Ibaka, Collison lineup in the fourth was a great move — but for the most part, the Thunder just got their crap together. They competed, they continued to play when things went wrong, and they played with the kind of spirit and confidence we normally see from them with Westbrook out there.
It can all change in an instant, though. For as good as you feel now, the Warriors could rough the Thunder up tomorrow night and color all this a different way. But for now, the Thunder went on the road and picked up a very good win behind a terrific performance to make them 6-5 without Russell Westbrook, and two home games ahead.
And who knows, maybe they found themselves a little again tonight.
- One basket had 18-of-37 3-pointers made on it tonight. The other had 0-of-22 made on it. That’s weird.
- With 4:08 left, Dwight Howard checked back in the game, and Scott Brooks came back with Perk. I didn’t hate the move, because of how well Perk handles the Rocket big man, but at the same time, he was messing with a lineup that was playing wonderfully together. It worked out, and Howard only scored on a couple free throws.
- One curious move Brooks made though: Why did Brooks put Fisher back in the game with three minutes left and OKC up seven? Seriously, why??????? It didn’t end up hurting the Thunder, but it made no sense on any level. Lamb was the one sacrificed for Fisher, which meant the Thunder lost a lengthy, quality defender and maybe their best help rebounder. In a situation where rebounds are critical, what is Fisher adding there that Lamb wouldn’t? Obviously it didn’t hurt and the Thunder closed the game without issue, but still.
- Durant after the game: “There’s always another level I can go to.”
- It wasn’t an emphatic performance by Durant by any means, but this is one to file away on the MVP resume. Without Westbrook, the Thunder went on the road and beat a Western playoff team behind 36-5-7 from KD.
- Howard tonight: 11 points on 5-13 shooting, eight rebounds. Perk whipped him again.
- Kudos to Steven Adams as well. He got beat by Howard in the fourth quarter on back-to-back possessions, but held his ground well the next two trips forcing contested misses. Great experience for the rookie.
- Can’t understate how well Ibaka played. Best non-Westbrook game he’s had. His came out 5-5 from the floor, finished 10-13 shooting, was active on the glass, was on time in help defense saving baskets, and hit open looks.
- The Thunder were 0-8 from 3 in the first half. They went 6-17 from 3 in the second.
- Durant went 8-21 shooting, but 18-20 from the line. His free throw rate right now is absurd.
- KD did have seven turnovers, and a couple of them were just silly mistakes.
- That 3 KD hit to end the third and tie the game was the dirtiest. Rainbow quick release, and nothing but the bottom. Like God dropped it straight from heaven.
- You could actually see KD doing math in his postgame interview (holdupholdup).
- Donetas Montiejunas came in to tonight just 2-22 from 3. So naturally he hit 3-4 from deep tonight.
- It was pretty frustrating to watch Dwight Howard push Steven Adams, and Adams not be allowed to push back.
- Double fouls are stupid. Death to double fouls.
- Hard not to be pleased with the Thunder tonight, but something I worry a bit about: Did they fix themselves, or was this just a good performance? I still think they need a starting five change despite that group playing far better tonight (+9 in 20 minutes), but this kind of game is just reinforcement for Brooks and his staff that they’re doing things right and only need to play better. The next two games are big. Win both of those, and I’ll get on board and shut up. For a little while at least.
- KD had a pretty lefty dunk. And then a dirty two-hander that Howard completely chickened out on challenging.
- An obvious example of how much Adams is improving: His free throw shooting. He was a horrific foul shooter at Pitt, but he’s up around 70 percent right now, and hit 3-4 from the line tonight.
- Least favorite thing about basketball: When an offensive player makes a bad decision and leaves his feet, then flails around and gets bailed out by the officials. Durant is guilty of it a lot, but it happened both ways a few times tonight.
- Harden had a pretty nice flop that cost OKC a dagger 3 with about two minutes left. It should be his third flopping fine of the season.
- The Thunder this season with Royal Ivey on the roster: 1-0.
Next up: Home against the Warriors on Friday