It was a lose one, win two kind of night for the Thunder. They lost to the Rockers 111-107, but won a fourth straight Northwest Division title by virtue of the Blazers losing to the Suns, and Kevin Durant made it to 40 straight games with at least 25 points. Two out of three!
I know, the one they didn’t get was the important thing. I’m supposed to be mad and frustrated and disappointed with the loss. Screw some stupid point streak, what matters is winning. I don’t disagree that winning is the priority, but I’m sorry, I can’t help but feel a massive sense of relief.
Watching Kevin Durant labor and struggle against the Rockets was almost a surreal experience, and certainly something we haven’t seen in quite some time.
And despite Durant getting his 25 — 28, in fact — his difficulty in getting there really tells a lot of the story with the Thunder’s 111-107 loss. The Thunder’s offense looked oddly dysfunctional and disjointed, particularly in the first half where everything was stalled and stagnant. The ball didn’t move and the shots they got weren’t very good. The Thunder — Durant especially — looked tired.
But this team is some kind of competitive, and found a third quarter spark, going up by eight on the Rockets in the second half. They were in control of the game for most of the fourth quarter, until three bad perimeter fouls resulted in eight Houston free throws, and two defensive breakdowns put the Thunder in an uphill position.
Durant canned a corner 3 to cut the Rockets lead to one with a minute left, and after two miraculous free throws from Omer Asik, Durant made a good decision to go for a 2-for-1 with 35 seconds on the clock. The shot was a bit forced and missed wide left, leaving the Thunder in a compromised position. Caron Butler incorrectly fouled despite a five-second difference from the shot clock, making it a free throw game. Durant hit his next 3 — which was a fairly absurd shot, by the way — Harden made two more free throws and Durant missed one final pull-up 3, sealing things.
(Side note: Overlooked smart decision by the Thunder on Durant’s last attempt. He didn’t make it, but they preserved that last timeout and had KD made — something well within the realm of possibility — OKC could’ve fouled, taken a timeout and had the ball with a chance to tie with four or five seconds left.)
It’s a shame for the Thunder to fall here, a night after gaining ground on the Spurs. The chances of actually catching them have always been slim, but the situation is downright dire now. The loss stings, but it wasn’t necessarily unexpected.
I think we’ve all learned that the Thunder aren’t often permitted excuses for losing — and for good reason — but you do have to note that this was the second game of a back-to-back, following up an emotional, difficult game last night and without Russell Westbrook. Also, this was the second straight game the Thunder were trying to sweep a Western contender 4-0 in the season series, something that’s pretty damn hard to do.
And despite the loss, I think there were more positives than negatives here. Reggie Jackson played another good game, this time as a starter (17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists), Jeremy lamb contributed well, Caron Butler made some shots, Serge Ibaka was flipping fantastic, the defense was mostly good, and KD got his 25.
But losing outweighs it all, and it’s hard to find much comfort in the other stuff when you’re caught up in wanting to win a game. Though with a plan in place, the Thunder have elected to compromise themselves to prepare for the postseason, which is certainly costing them some games, and maybe the No. 1 overall seed.
- KD by quarter tonight: four, five, eight, ten. An oddly balanced scoring night. He’s averaged 9.9 points per first quarter during this streak, and 17.6 points by halftime. Most of the time, he’s either got his 25 by the end of the third, or sitting on 22. Tonight, it was a struggle.
- That one ranks in the five best games I’ve ever seen from Serge Ibaka. He tied a career-high in points with 27 on 11-17 shooting, but added nine rebounds, a career-high tying four assists and six blocks. Like last night against the Spurs, he absolutely owned the defensive interior. The Rockers tried to attack early, but after getting turned away a number of times, clearly dumped their pants a bit every time they entered the paint and saw Ibaka waiting.
- This is a thought, and maybe I’m way out of line here, but how about not having Derek Fisher guard James Harden all game? Or is that far too sensible?
- The difference: OKC took 20 free throws, the Rockets took 37. Harden took 20.
- Why does it always seem like it’s the guys that have all the intangibles and toughness that make the most mental errors? Butler’s foul was just unnecessary, and came with his whole team and bench yelling for them to play it out.
- It’s just amazing to me that someone can be a professional basketball player and be so bad, and reluctant, at shooting as Andre Roberson. Harden completely ignored Roberson on the offensive end, which Scott Brooks wisely countered by getting Lamb on the floor early in the third.
- Nick Collison hit a corner 3, and then hit this turnaround fadeaway. So make that three out of four wins on the night. In fact, this might be my favorite Thunder game of the season.
- Was it just me, or did it seem like this game, as good as it was, lacked a certain intensity? Like the crowd wasn’t nearly enough into it or something. Maybe it was just the TV broadcast not bringing it through enough or something.
- Without Westbrook, Fisher was back to running point for the second unit and hoo boy, that was sad. Any time you’ve got your point guard backing someone down after catching an inbounds pass, you know it’s bad. In the first half, Fisher was way too involved in the offense, trying to create and distribute. It was rough.
- Speaking of, Jeremy Lamb played 22 minutes to Fisher’s 25. Brooks clearly preferred Fisher guarding Harden over anyone else, which explains the minutes, but Lamb could’ve helped in a number of ways. He had 12 on 5-8 shooting and got a small crack at running point in the second quarter. Would’ve liked to have seen more of it.
- Butler went 4-10 again. It’s uncanny.
- Most of the Rockets offense tonight was pump fake non-stop until either you got your defender to jump or he fouled. Hey, can’t fault them. It worked pretty well.
- The Thunder had 14 turnovers tonight. Durant had six of them.
- I know Francisco Garcia is going to feel like he did a great job on KD, but it just seemed like Durant was a tad disengaged, and also missed some good shots. Garcia does do a good job of being an irritant though. He clearly gets under KD’s skin.
Next up: Home against the Suns on Sunday