Thunder 118, Rockets 112
News, notes and observations from Wednesday’s win at Houston.
- Nenad Krstic won the jump ball…over Jordan Hill. That’s not something you see often.
- By now you know about the Thunder franchise’s 11-game losing streak at Houston. It stretched back to 2005 and ended tonight. Nick Collison, the longest tenured member of the franchise, was particularly pleased to finally record a victory in Houston. He hadn’t done it since he was a rookie and said after the game that he doesn’t even remember that win. ““We don’t talk about it a lot,” Collison said. “But every time I come here, I think about it because I’ve been here a long time. We’ve had a lot of games that we seemed to have given away in the end. There were a lot of tough losses here so it’s nice to finally get a win.”
- The Thunder’s energy and sense of purpose to start the game looked 10 times better than it did when the team lost here on Nov. 28. This time, OKC looked like it actually wanted to be here and it resulted in a great start offensively. The score was tied at 31 after one quarter, largely because the Thunder didn’t play great defense. But with the exception of a few turnovers and poor transition defense, the Thunder did a much better job of setting the tone.
- In the first quarter, Jeff Green looked like a real deal stretch 4. He pulled Luis Scola away from the paint and knocked down two of his first 3-pointers in rhythm and without hesitation when the ball was swung his way. With more consistency, you could see how Green would be an extremely useful player as this core grows — Again, with more consistency.
- I don’t think it would be a stretch to say second half defense is starting to become a bit of a staple for the Thunder. Over the past three games, OKC has outscored opponents 58 to 50.3 on average in the second half. The Thunder has been outscored 52 to 50.2 on average in the first half. On paper, that’s not a huge difference. But some too-little-too-late scoring has helped opponents. Said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of his team’s second half defense: “It’s probably right up there with the better teams.” All that’s left is to see it consistently and against the league’s better teams.
- For Thursday’s paper, I wrote about how Brooks’ halftime speeches lately have helped spur the Thunder’s second-half performances. And there was a funny exchange between Brooks and a local reporter after the game about something along those lines. The reporter asked Brooks if he had mentioned to his team Houston’s tendency to start slow in the third quarters. Said Brooks: “I did not know that and did not mention it. Even if I did know that I wouldn’t tell our guys because they would relax even more.”
- Brooks essentially gave Thabo Sefolosha the game ball for this one. Sefolosha, who I had noted in this space has been quiet lately (which Brooks attributed in part to reduced minutes), grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds. That ties Sefolosha’s career high, which he’s done twice before. “I thought the defense by Thabo and the rebounding by Thabo won this game tonight.”
- Brooks also praised Serge Ibaka for stepping up with Green in foul trouble most of the night.
- I had no idea during the game. But Green failed to grab a rebound again tonight. I didn’t realize it because I thought he played fairly well. It’s the second time this season and fourth time in his career that Green hasn’t pulled down at least one board. One of the comments under my game story on NewsOK.com points out a pretty strange fact. “Is there any other team that would ever have their starting SG get 13 rebounds and their starting PF get 0 rebounds in a game? Weird.”
- What was strange about the Rockets late rally was it never seemed like the Thunder was going to lose. There were some tense seconds, sure. But the Thunder had a huge advantage working in its favor down the stretch. Foul shooting. Even though the Thunder has dipped from its record-setting pace, the team has been money when it comes to crunch time foul shots. The Thunder was 15 of 21 (71.4 percent) from the foul line through three quarters. In the fourth quarter, the Thunder made 11 of 12 free throws. “I know we can step up and hit free throws,” Brooks said. “Our guys have a big heart when it comes to free throws.”
- Points in the paint were the eye sore in this one. It was bad early and got ugly late. The Rockets started the game with a 26-8 advantage, saw it mushroom to 34-10, 36-12 at halftime and, finally, 70-42 at the final buzzer. Without a second of research I’m going to say that’s an opponent season high. Brooks blamed it on concentration. “That’s a huge number,” Brooks said of 70 paint points. “But one of the things we’re always worried about going into this game is that they’re a terrific 3-point shooting team and they can throw up 10 makes on you in 48 minutes.”
- If you analyze the paint points with Brooks’ explanation in mind, and you consider the Rockets went 1-for-9 from 3-point range through three quarters before making four of nine in the fourth, maybe you can say the Thunder executed fairly well. Maybe.
- Shane Battier’s defense on Kevin Durant is absolutely amazing. And so is Durant’s ability to hit shots. I might have written the exact same thing after the last game between these two teams. And it’s worth repeating tonight. Battier has a hand in Durant’s face on every single shot attempt.
- Durant’s defense on Battier wasn’t so impressive. Twice in the first quarter, KD gave up inside position to Battier and allowed him to score on easy layups. That can’t happen.
- Regular readers of The Oklahoman are familiar with our Collected Wisdom feature that runs every Sunday. I snagged Battier on Wednesday for an upcoming Collected Wisdom. Won’t want to miss that. We talked Jeff Capel, NBA lockout, advanced statistics and the bad habits created by AAU basketball among other things.
- On an early three-on-one fast break, it was clear from the beginning that Sefolosha, manning the middle, wasn’t going to give it up. And he didn’t. But when the ball was poked out of his hands and into Green’s hands for a wide open layup, Sefolosha was credited with the assist. If only the Rockets stat crew knew.
- Thunder did a great job taking care of the rock. OKC had eight turnovers in the first half and finished with 13 for the game.
- Kyle Lowry got Eric Maynor with the rip move early in the second quarter. It was as good as any instance we’ve seen Durant do it. But the refs said the foul came on the floor and didn’t award Lowry three free throws. Rockets coach Rick Adelman was livid.
- There shouldn’t be a single Thunder fan griping about officiating after this one. Houston got hosed. A lot of questionable calls on the floor tonight. The most obvious was when Aaron Brooks got Ibaka in the air and shot as he jumped into him but didn’t get a foul call. Russell Westbrook did the exact same thing to Jared Jeffries minutes later and got the whistle.
- How could I get this far by not mentioning Westbrook by now? He flirted with a triple double, coming two assists shy (and this time refraining from padding stats at the end) while scoring 23 points with a game-high 13 assists. What impressed me the most was how Westbrook stuck with it. He was clearly frustrated in the early going after missing his first six shots. He picked up a tech for barking at the officials following a no-call, and he was flinging his arms wildly when going down the lane. But young fella kept his composure throughout the game and found a way to control his emotions and the game.
- Durant had just eight shots through three quarters. And still had 19 points. Green and Westbrook both had more, and Ibaka had matched Durant at that point.
- I love how the Rockets fight. They never give up on a play or a game. But these guys might want to learn how to get out of the way when a Thunder player goes up for a dunk. First Battier gets embarrassed by Westbrook. Then KD flushes all over Patrick Patterson. Add it to the Thunder’s many highlight dunks this season. I kid you not. Half the Toyota Center crowd jumped from their seats in awe. The other half had that half jump from their seats before realizing they’re Rockets fans.
- Durant told me after the game that he took a shot to the groin on that dunk and had a stinger. He was clearly trying to shake off something coming out of a timeout. I wouldn’t think that it would linger. But it’s worth watching Thursday against Orlando.
- During a timeout between the first and second quarter, a kid seated behind me dropped his iPhone and darn near stepped on it, crushing it to pieces as he jumped and hollered during a T-shirt toss. Let’s see: $400 phone. $8.99 shirt. I never seize to be amazed at how nuts fans go for a shirt.
- Cole Aldrich is tearing it up in Tulsa! OK, maybe not. But he did have 19 points and seven rebounds, both season highs, in a win against Dakota on Wednesday. Could the kid be putting it together down in the D-League?
- Any impatient Thunder heads growing annoyed that Aldrich isn’t playing with the Thunder should look at Patterson. The Rockets have eased Patterson into the mix even with an undersized and bruised and battered frontcourt. Patterson and Aldrich are completely different players, I know. But they were picked a few selections from each other and are getting great experience from extended minutes in the D-League. That’s the great thing about the D-League. High draft picks don’t have to be on the floor anymore just because they’re high draft picks.
- Something to watch going forward. James Harden had his right hand examined by the medical staff multiple times before the game. He played 22 minutes and scored eight points with four rebounds and two assists but missed all three of his shot attempts. Harden said he’s had some swelling in the hand but says he doesn’t know how it happened. “While working out, I just felt it,” Harden said. “But I’ll be good.”
- Consistency and completeness were the key words after this one. The Thunder has got to start putting together complete games on a consistent basis, something it hasn’t really done all season. “If we want to be the team we say we want to be,” Collison said, “we got to be more consistent throughout the games and build toward where we want to go and not just try to pull out a game every time.”
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