Rockets 122, Thunder 119
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s loss at Houston.
- That kind of felt like a nightmare come true, no? The ghost of James Harden coming back to exact some revenge on his old team. Each shot hurting worse and worse. Each drive, each Euro-step, each pinpoint pass only exacerbating the fact that he not only no longer plays for your team, but he also is excelling with someone else. It’s one thing to see it from afar. It’s entirely another to have to watch Harden rip your heart out, like you used to delight in seeing him do to so many others, and know there isn’t a thing anybody can do about it. The Thunder has never encountered that. Not before Wednesday night, when Harden shook off miserable performances in his first two meetings against his former team and hung a career-high 46 points on the Thunder in a 122-119 win inside the Toyota Center. It’s convenient to say it’s only one loss for the Thunder and just one win for the Rockets. But it’s really not. The reality is it’s not about today. What we witnessed Harden do here was a cold-blooded reminder of what could have been in OKC. Nothing has ever drilled that home quite like the show Harden just strung together.
- You know who had better pan out? Serge Ibaka. Some might see that as harsh. But it’s the truth. No matter how you slice it. Many believe the Thunder “picked” Ibaka over Harden. But that’s not the case. The Thunder offered Harden a deal. He didn’t take it. The plan was to keep both. Still, given Harden’s current trajectory, it’s hard to not think Ibaka has his work cut out for him if he’s going to help the Thunder come anywhere close to looking wise for what went down in the 2012 offseason.
- Ibaka scored 16 points with seven rebounds and five blocked shots…and you barely knew he was on the court at times. Again, he’s got a long way to go.
- But back to Harden. He made 14 of 19 shots, grabbed eight rebounds, dished six assists and turned the ball over only twice in 44 minutes. Said Jeremy Lin: “He had an incredible game. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that.”
- Harden tried to deny that his performance had anything to do with playing his old team. OK. “I try to send a message every game,” Harden said when asked if that was his intent. “If you watch the other 50 games, I did the same thing.”
- Harden was ultra animated tonight. He talked a ton of trash to everyone on the Thunder. He posed. He shot looks at the bench. He popped his jersey. And, of course, he raised his hands and curled his fingers in his customary 3-point celebration.
- Harden outscored Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant by two points. Think about that.
- Harden also had 10 fewer turnovers than Westbrook and Durant. Think about that.
- When Thabo Sefolosha scores 28 points, the Thunder needs to win. No excuses.
- Harden made his first four shots, all 3-pointers, and had 14 points by the end of the first quarter. “That kind of helped me out with my confidence, just to get it going early,” Harden said.
- In an incredible display of shooting, the Rockets made eight of their first 10 3-pointers.
- Houston then missed its next 10.
- Lin on the early 3-point shooting: “We just felt like we needed to move the ball quickly and get it to the weak side. When you move the ball the right way, that fast, you’re going to end up with a lot of corner 3s, a lot of open weak side 3s. We were able to exploit that.”
- The Thunder’s rotations in the first quarter were awful.
- OKC finished with 22 turnovers, two shy of tying its season high. Houston turned those turnovers into 29 points.
- With 7:13 left to play, the Thunder led 107-93.
- Making matters worse, the Rockets had just 10 players available tonight after a mega three-team trade that sent four players out. Houston essentially played only seven guys. That officially qualifies this loss as terrible.
- Worst of all, the road defense was non-existent yet again. In the last 10 road games, the Thunder has allowed 105.1 points on 45.4 percent shooting. “Defensively, it hasn’t been our level on the road for a while now,” said Scott Brooks. “But we have to change that.”
- Good luck. Next three road games: Denver, Clippers, Knicks.
- The fourth-quarter shot selection was atrocious. When it got tight, Westbrook and Durant just put their heads down and tossed up shots. This team is supposed to be better than that by now. But after 54 games, hero ball still wins out. If the shots are falling, everything’s fine. If they’re not, tonight happens. At some point, this team has to learn that the same thing that builds a 14-point lead generally should maintain it.
- No Kendrick Perkins in this one. He strained his knee in practice Tuesday. He was in Houston for this morning’s shootaround and tonight’s game but did not sit on the bench. He remained in the locker room and continued to receive treatment on his knee. A lot of people already are connected dots between the trade rumor that came out Wednesday morning with Perk sitting this one out. As far as I know there is little to no truth to the rumor and Perk’s injury and subsequent whereabouts tonight were purely coincidental. Frankly, I’d be shocked if Perk is traded.
- Perk said he injured the knee after landing awkwardly while trying to block a shot. “It’s all right,” Perkins said. “It’s nothing serious. I just had a little swelling in there. It was just a game-time decision so we decided that it wasn’t in my best interest to play tonight. I probably will be playing Friday.”
- Hasheem Thabeet got the start in place of Perk and actually played fairly well in limited minutes. All you can judge it on is whether he did his job, and he did what he was supposed: block and alter shots, rebound and finish plays.
- Some were steaming because Brooks started Thabeet over Nick Collison. Thabeet played 11 minutes. Collison played 17 before fouling out. Thabeet essentially played the first five or six minutes of the first and third quarters and did not return after that. Not a big deal.
- Brooks on why he went with Thabeet as the starter over Collison: “I like Nick coming off the bench. It just stays with our same rotation. He has a good chemistry with our guys off the bench. Why change two areas of our game? If I did that, I’d change the starters’ chemistry and the bench’s chemistry.”
- Brooks played small for a ton of time in this game.
- Oh yeah, Durant got his second career triple-double.
- Keep an eye on this matchup as a possible 1-8 or 2-7 first-round series. It’d be a fun one.
- Up next. Minnesota on Friday.
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