By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
Oklahoma City cruised to a 120-98 win over Houston on Wednesday. Here’s some rapid reaction:
It was over when…
…the Thunder came out crisp from the start, knowing they were the better team and showing they were the better team. OKC jumped out to a double-digit lead early in the second quarter and Houston never got it back within single-digits.
The man everybody came to see had one of his roughest shooting nights as a professional. Thunder fans gave him a nice ovation pregame, showing genuine affection for their one-time wonder boy. And they were even happier with his first-half play, showing little energy and less touch. Russell Westbrook swatted Harden’s second shot and Serge Ibaka got him minutes later (both of which induced a roar from the the home fans). That was just the start of his game-long nightmare. Harden finished 3-16 shooting for a misleading 17 points, scoring most of that in meaningless garbage time. When the game was still in question, Houston’s max player had little impact.
Star of the game – Kevin Durant
In OKC’s first eight games, Durant didn’t have a 30-point game, an alarming trend considering his inflated scoring numbers the past three years. But no need to worry Thunder fans, his shooting touch (and scoring aggression) have returned. Durant has scored 30+ in four of the past eight games, highlighted by 37 in an overtime win against Philadelphia on Saturday and 37 on a smooth 13-22 shooting Wednesday night against Houston. He had a physical mismatch all night, often with Harden guarding him, and he exploited it.
Rising – Serge Ibaka’s jumper
Preseason talk (besides the Harden contract/eventual trade) seemed to center around Serge Ibaka’s improved jumper. And namely, how improved it was. But the brakes were pumped early on, when Ibaka struggled through a 5-18 showing in the season’s first two games. Since then, however, he’s been lights out, proving the preseason hype more than just talk. On the season, he’s shooting 59.5 percent. In the past four games, he’s shooting 69 percent. And on Wednesday, he was on fire, going 11-13 from the floor, the bulk of those smooth and confident jumpers, for 23 points, nine rebounds and six blocks. He’s turning into a star.
Falling – Harden’s OKC reception
As time goes on, the Thunder memories will fade and the Rocket memories will stick. He was a fan favorite for so long here, and it showed in a rousing pregame ovation on Wednesday. But he had a mid-game tussle with Hasheem Thabeet that produced some boos and some game-long struggles that produced hearty cheers. Harden is now the enemy to these fans, as strange as it seems.
Stat of the game
Houston is now 0-7 in games that James Harden shoots below 40 percent and 6-1 in games he shoots above that important plateau. On Wednesday, he shot 18 percent.
Stat of the game II
Oklahoma City is averaging 113.7 points per game in the past seven, eclipsing the century mark in each one.
Strange moment here. Thabeet was ejected after the tussle with Harden and then allowed to come back after review.
OKC concludes the season’s first month on Friday night, completing a mini three-game home stand against Utah at 7 p.m. The Jazz are pretty hot, winners of five of the last six, so it should be a nice test for the Thunder.