Thunder 98, Rockets 95
Nuggets from my notebook from Saturday’s win at Houston.
- There is no real update on Eric Maynor, who had to be carried off midway through the fourth quarter tonight with what the team is calling a leg injury. Here’s as much as I can give you. We should know more Sunday.
- Who knew this one would be so entertaining? There was a bunch of talk about how the Rockets would be better and how tough it is to beat a team two straight times, let alone in two straight nights and blah, blah, blah. But with Kyle Lowry and Courtney Lee sitting out again, did anyone really expect the Thunder to have to win in the final seconds? I didn’t.
- It was a typical game at Houston for the Thunder. If it seems it’s never easy for OKC inside the Toyota Center that’s because it never is. This was only the Thunder’s second win at Houston in the Oklahoma City era. The Thunder’s win here on Jan. 12 of last season snapped a 11-game losing streak at Houston, which dated to the franchise’s days in Seattle in 2005. In the Thunder’s modest two-game winning streak at Houston, OKC has won by a total of nine points.
- I always get the feeling that the Thunder makes it hard on itself inside this building. The intensity never seems to be at its highest and the play always suffers. Take the turnovers tonight, for example. OKC had six in the first quarter alone and another three in the second. For you math geniuses, that’s nine by halftime. Then, in the third quarter, the Thunder comes out and turns it over three times on its first six possessions. This from a team that had averaged just 11.6 turnovers in its previous three games. I’m not sure if it’s the sparse crowd in Houston that contributes to the Thunder coming out flat or what? But it’s troubling. The Rockets are a nice scrappy team. But there’s not that much scrappiness in the world.
- The Thunder absolutely abused Houston on the glass early. It was about to be the story of the game because the Thunder was so dominant. Through the opening 8 minutes, 20 seconds, the Thunder held a 16-1 rebounding advantage. I’ve never seen anything like it. Four out of five starters pulled down at least one rebound during that stretch, and Kendrick Perkins had gobbled up eight, tying his season high. At the end of the first period, the Thunder had a 19-6 advantage in the rebound game.
- The writing was on the wall for what type of game it would be when that rebounding advantage only got the Thunder a measly two-point lead after one quarter. Three things contributed to wasting that effort: 1) the turnovers, 2) failing to get out in transition and 3) a lack of free throw attempts (1-for-3 at the line).
- The Thunder had just six fast break points tonight. The Rockets had 19! That’s beyond shocking. This is a Thunder team that should be able to get six fast break points in about 60 seconds each night.
- Now, on to Kevin Durant. How money has this guy been? That’s two game-winners in nine days and what was essentially a game-clinching bucket at Memphis three days after Christmas. His catch-and-shoot 19-footer off a feed from Russell Westbrook tonight just added to his fast-growing list of daggers.
- How about KD’s explanation for his early-season success in late-game situations? Said Durant: “It might sound odd, but late in the game I just don’t care anymore. I think that’s the best way to go about it. If you think about it too much, you end up overdoing it or missing it. So I just don’t care. If I miss a shot, I miss it. If I make it, good.”
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks on KD’s big shot and continued evolution: “One of the things it takes in this league is just continuing to go through the process of getting better. And Kevin’s getting better in late-game situations, and I’m with him on that. I’m getting better. That’s what teams do. You don’t become good overnight. It takes time. But Kevin is a gamer and he makes plays for his team, and tonight we needed him to make that shot and he did.”
- The Thunder’s first half ball movement shouldn’t go overlooked. Everyone was passing and it made the offense look incredibly sharp at times. OKC had six assists on its first eight field goals and finished the first half with 20 buckets on 12 assists.
- Perkins had a sequence late in the second quarter that illustrated why he’s the new Perk, or the old Perk, or whatever Perk. It showed why he’s better than he was last year. With about three minutes remaining, Perk got switched onto Kevin Martin and successfully defended him for a good five to seven seconds. Perk was so good at staying in front of Martin that Martin gave up and forced a pass to Chase Budinger, who stood 30 feet from the hoop with the shot clock winding down. The pass was an errant one and dribbled into the backcourt for a turnover.
- Westbrook was the Thunder’s best player tonight. He scored when he needed to score, passed when he needed to pass, took over when he needed to take over and took a backseat when he needed to take a backseat. The end result was 25 points on 10-of-20 shooting with six assists, four rebounds and three turnovers.
- With Durant and James Harden struggling with their shots, Westbrook carried OKC. He had 21 points in the first three quarters and was pivotal in bringing the Thunder back from a third-quarter deficit that reached 12 points four times.
- Westbrook’s 21 points through three quarters matched the combined total for Durant and Harden. At that time, that duo was 7-for-21 from the field.
- KD on Russ: “He’s the point guard and he was getting everybody involved at first. We wasn’t finishing for him. He took it upon himself to be aggressive. That’s the type of player he is, and he willed us back into the game at the time. I was playing terrible on both ends, and Coach took me out and Russell took over.”
- Brooks on Russ: “Russell really kept us going…Russell carried us. Russell willed our team to win.”
- If Nazr Mohammed could go against Jordan Hill every night, he’d be an All-Star. You only need to know two things about Mohammed’s night. He finished with a season-high 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting and six rebounds. And he scored one of his baskets on a driving dunk, blowing past Hill.
- I didn’t think Patrick Patterson would be much of a pro. Boy, was I wrong. He looks like David West in the making. It might be much too early to call him automatic from 17 feet. But he takes them and makes plenty. And he has no fear on defense.
- Speaking of no fear. Goran Dragic is one tough little dude. He might struggle with inconsistency. But when he’s on, he’s a big-time problem. The show-and-go he hit Perk with in the final three minutes? Nasty!
- Of course I’ve got to mention how Dragic shrunk when the game was on the line. In the final eight seconds of a one-possession game, Dragic missed a floater on one trip and then he threw the ball to the scoreboard operator on the next to ensure the Thunder walked out of here with a win.
- Serge Ibaka got another two assists. That’s two straight nights for Serge.
- Then Serge got benched in favor of Nick Collison down the stretch for his defense on Luis Scola. Can’t say I disagree with that decision.
- Scola made more magnificent shots tonight. But he scored 28 points on 28 shots, a night the Thunder will gladly live with.
- I held my tongue after Friday’s game. No more. Martin travels every time he touches the ball.
- The Thunder can become the first team to win all three of its three-in-three with a win Sunday. Said KD: “That’s one thing I can’t worry about. We just want to take it a game at a time. We got this one out the way. Hopefully tomorrow we come with some energy and be all right.”
- Up next. At home against San Antonio on Sunday. Game time is 6 p.m.
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