Rockets 99, Thunder 98
Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday’s loss at Houston.
- I’ll remember two things about this one: how the Thunder didn’t come out with any intensity whatsoever in the first half and how Kevin Durant’s 20-footer at the end came inches short of giving OKC a win in a game it had no business being in.
- The Thunder would have won this game by 20 had it came out ready to play. Instead, the starters looked largely aloof in the opening 24 minutes. And still, the Thunder trailed by only eight at the half. This loss is squarely on the starters’ shoulders. Said Durant: “We didn’t really have too much energy. We brought that energy in the second half and almost won the game. But we’ve got to start off a little better. We had it in spurts. But we’ve got to go back to how we were playing the last four or five games, starting off with a lot of energy. And that starts with me, Russell, Jeff, Thabo and Serge. We got to do a better job. I have confidence we’ll do it next game.”
- Early in the second quarter, Brooks went with a bench unit of Eric Maynor, James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha, D.J. White and Nick Collison. The Thunder trailed 37-25 shortly after White came in for Jeff Green. And with almost no scorers on the court, it looked like the deficit would only get worse. But a funny thing happened. The four bench players and Sefolosha actually played with effort and peeled off a 6-0 run. The starters came back and the Rockets lead immediately grew to 11. That’s effort.
- I thought Durant’s shot was good when it left his hands. He has the ability to make those game-winners, but it just hasn’t happened for him. And after the game, he voiced his frustration. “I’ve been working so hard on that only to come up short time after time. But I got to keep being positive, keep believing and keep working. Hopefully it’ll start to change. I’ve had one in four years.”
- The actual attempt was a decent look. You can’t really blame Durant for taking that shot. The one he hoisted at Indiana at the end of regulation was a different story. But this one was a solid shot. My only issue with Durant’s choice tonight, and after most of his potential game-winners, is that it was a fadeaway. Durant’s always falling backward or leaning sideways on his last-second shots. And it’s never a surprise when they come up short or bounce long or miss inches to the left or right. He’s tall enough to shoot over just about anyone an opposing coach can put on him. And I for one would like to see him square up and get a more textbook and rhythmic shot off.
- Serge Ibaka got off to a great start cleaning up his teammates’ misses. Midway through the first quarter, Ibaka had scored 12 points, mostly on putbacks. He finihed with 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting with eight rebounds and three blocked shots. He played just two minutes in the fourth quarter as Brooks went small.
- Russell Westbrook was awesome again. He had 23 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and zero turnovers. As I wrote for Monday’s paper, he will be an All-Star. When the Thunder came out for the second half looking to finally play with purpose, it was Westbrook who provided a spark. Westbrook scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting with four assists in the third quarter.
- My only problem with Westbrook’s emergence has been the backseat Durant has had to take. It’s becoming more and more evident that as Westbrook dominates the ball, Durant is reduced to second fiddle. Something has to change there. On several occasions tonight, Durant was the third, and sometimes fourth, option. When Westbrook is probing, Durant is standing around. It takes Durant completely out of the game. And by the time Durant finally gets a touch, he’s so eager to do something that he rushes up an ill-advised attempt.
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