Rockets 96, Thunder 95
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday night’s loss at Houston.
- The Thunder played about as bad of a first quarter as it could possibly play. It was sloppy. It was raggedy. It was, well, ugly. OKC couldn’t make a shot, couldn’t stop the Rockets and couldn’t stop turning it over. By the end of the period, the Thunder trailed 29-13, setting a season low for points in the opening period, and made just 6-of-24 shots while allowing Houston to hit 11 of 22.
- Russell Westbrook was the only Thunder player with a pulse in the first quarter. When the Thunder trailed 26-10, Westbrook had eight of those points. Kevin Durant had the other two.
- Some will criticize the Thunder for late-game execution after this one. Count me out. The Thunder got some pretty good shots on goal if I may borrow a soccer reference. They just didn’t go in. As I wrote for Thursday’s paper, there are some who will use this game as evidence that a “jump-shooting team” always will struggle in close games. I didn’t think that was the case.
- The Thunder was 0-for-9 in the final 2 minutes, 10 seconds. The last attempt was a desperation launch by Westbrook. So excluding that, only three of the final eight misses were 3-pointers. Of the other five, one was from 16 feet, one was from 15 feet, one was a 10-foot runner, one was a blocked layup and one was a missed tip-in. That’s not what I would call settling.
- And by the way, the Thunder came into tonight’s game 5-1 in games decided by four points or less.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he was satisfied with the late execution. “Down the stretch, we missed some shots that were good looks. We normally would make a few of those. We had good rhythm in that fourth quarter, and then we just couldn’t make a basket. But they were good looks. The execution was good.”
- I found it sort of funny how Brooks altered his choice of words a minute later after more reflection of what exactly his players got down the stretch. “At the end of games, those are great looks. Not good looks. Those are great looks,” Brooks said. “Our guys are going to make those shots more times than not.”
- I could not agree more with Westbrook on this close loss. “It happens like that sometimes. It wasn’t a bad loss. We fought. It wasn’t like we gave up or anything.”
- My only gripe about the late-game execution is that it’s all Durant and Westbrook. It’s like the Thunder forgets there’s this guy named James Harden who happens to be the team’s best playmaker. Harden had one shot in the final 2 minutes, 10 seconds, a missed 3. He was 4-for-4 in the quarter’s first 9 minutes, 50 seconds.
- Harden was turnover prone tonight, as was pretty much everybody in this one. But Harden had three of his five giveaways in the final quarter.
- The Thunder had 22 turnovers as a team, and the Rockets scored 26 points off them. Durant had four turnovers, and Westbrook had six. It’s absolutely amazing how bad this team is at taking care of the ball. The Thunder already ranked last in the league in turnovers coming into tonight. OKC only stretched bumped its average to 17.1 per game after tonight.
- Brooks put it best: “I don’t know how we do it. We’re in every game and we give up the ball too many times.”
- Serge Ibaka was providing some great energy early. Then he got benched and played just 8 1/2 minutes in the second half. Wonder what that was about?
- Ibaka’s lack of PT in the second half might have had a little something to do with Samuel Dalembert. The Rockets center, who Ibaka was responsible for, had 10 rebounds a minute and a half into the second quarter. Ten!! The Thunder had 11 as a team at that point.
- I loved what Brooks did by putting Kendrick Perkins on Luis Scola, though. Perk’s defensive skills shut down Scola as much as you’ll see. Scola scored just 15 points on 7-for-16 shooting, largely because Perk stayed down on pump fakes and gave great second and third and fourth efforts against Scola.
- Perk picked up another technical foul tonight. It was complete and utter baloney, and it likely will be rescinded. All Perk did was challenge Scola’s shot through the whistle. The two had their arms get tangled, though, and Perk immediately was hit with a T. The ref who did it was standing behind Perk, so he couldn’t really judge how malicious the play was. It wasn’t at all and if any of Perk’s techs deserve to be rescinded this one is the one. I believe it will be. Stay tuned.
- Officially, it was Perk’s ninth tech of the season. His “previous ninth,” which he was whistled for against Memphis on Feb. 3, was rescinded. Again, my guess is he’ll remain at eight once the league gets a chance to review tonight’s call.
- Westbrook was called for his sixth tech of the season. It was a double tech on him and Dalembert. I have less hope of that one getting rescinded.
- Brooks was dishing out benchings left and right tonight. He started Royal Ivey at the beginning of the second quarter instead of Daequan Cook. Cook played just 15 minutes. Ivey played 10. Brooks told me after the game that it was a decision to get something going defensively. “I just felt that Royal earned that opportunity,” Brooks said. “One of the things that he does, he brings energy, he brings toughness and the guys respond when he does play. Even in a practice setting, he brings it every time. I felt that we needed that energy, because we weren’t scoring but we were giving up too many points in that first quarter and I didn’t want the game to turn out to be a bad game all the way around. But I give him credit. He came in and hasn’t played a lot of early game minutes and he did a good job.”
- Found it interesting that Brooks went with Ivey over Lazar Hayward. Ivey was guarding Courtney Lee, which is not a terrible mismatch for the Thunder. But if it was toughness and defense Brooks was looking for, I would have assumed he would have opted for Hayward over Ivey. Gotta wait your turn in line, I s’pose.
- Kyle Lowry. Fabulous player. Tough as nails. Great winner. I just couldn’t get over the fact that he’s was wearing KD’s signature shoes while playing against the guy. I wouldn’t care how comfortable a shoe was. I wouldn’t wear my opponents shoes while playing against him. I’d lace up a pair of Chucks before showing that kind of respect on the court.
- Kevin Martin scored a team-high 32 points tonight on 10-for-18 shooting. He made 4-of-7 3s and got to the line eight times, making all eight. He was hot. But we’ve gotten to the point where every time a player goes off someone says, ‘Man, I wish Thabo Sefolosha was healthy.’ If you’re in that band, take it easy on that. You do realize that Thabo isn’t the cure-all, right? He can’t stop every single perimeter player in the NBA. Guys have good nights.
- After typing that, I feel it’s only right to point out that Thabo has had success against K-Mart this season. In the last game, Thabo helped hold Martin to 16 points on 4-for-11 shooting. And in the first meeting, Martin scored just 13 points on 4-for-9 shooting. It’s unfair, however, to overlook the impact Lowry’s absence had on those first two performances. The Rockets are just a different team with Lowry in there. So, by comparison, in last year’s three-games in which Sefolosha faced Martin with Lowry in the lineup, Martin averaged 21.3 points on 45.5 percent shooting. Not trying to take anything at all away from Sefolosha. Just trying to point out that he’s not going to be the answer every night. Guys are still going to go off at times when he comes back.
- On a much more important Sefolosha note, here’s some news about his recovery.
- The Thunder didn’t lead for the first time until KD hit a 3 with 8:58 left in the third. That is highly unusual.
- Am I the only one who thinks Chandler Parsons looks like an All-Star whenever he plays KD? What is that about?
- One game after registering a career-high eight assists, Reggie Jackson netted another four tonight.
- Just 11 offensive rebounds by the Rockets.
- Let me tell you who’s getting in on the bench celebration action. Ryan Reid. He’s adding his own flavor to the bench mob’s celebrations. On 3s, he’s raising his long arms in the form of a bow and arrow, extending three fingers on each hand. And he’s holding it up for a while, making sure his aim is just right. After another basket, Reid had some kind of display with Ivey in which Reid pretends to cool off his teammate. I love it. Nobody thought the guy would ever make the NBA and yet here he is, living out his dream and soaking up every single second of it.
- Up next. Golden State on Friday, the first of a five-game home stand.
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