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Thunder 105, Rockets 102

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 25, 2013 at 12:10 pm •  Published: April 25, 2013

Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s Game 2 win over the Rockets.

  • There are tons of takeaways from this one. My biggest is the Thunder’s crunch time performance.
  • This was the first time in the post-James Harden era that the Thunder has had to grind out a playoff victory. It won’t be the last. And remember, crunch time is when many believed the Thunder would miss Harden most. But not tonight it didn’t.
  • OKC went 4-for-7 in the final five minutes. All four buckets were assisted. The Thunder was 4-for-6 from the foul line. Five different players scored. That’s about as good as it gets down the stretch.
  • “I think all season long we’ve been doing a great job of closing out big games and trying to prepare ourselves for moments like this,” said Russell Westbrook. “And I thought tonight we all stuck together.”
  • Only part of what Westbrook said is true. The Thunder has been preparing for these moments all season. But OKC technically hasn’t been doing a great job of closing out big games as Westbrook suggests. The Thunder had just eight games decided by three points or less in the regular season. OKC went 3-5 in those games. Each passing loss triggered questions and sometimes doubt about how the Thunder would perform this postseason without Harden.
  • “We’ve been in a lot of close games, maybe not this year but you don’t forget how you play,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We have a lot of experience on our team even though our age is young…One of the things that (Thunder players) do is they play with a lot of composure for a young group…So it’s only going to get better as time goes by.”
  • Houston threw out a zone against the Thunder, and the results were sort of mixed. It helped the Rockets get back in the game, but OKC soon figured it out and attacked it well.
  • “We were down so we had to think of something to try to help us come back into the game,” Harden said of Houston going zone. “And luckily that slowed them up a little bit. Well, a lot. They took some tough shots and we got out and got some easy points and went on our run.”
  • The most troubling thing about this game? Easily the rebounding. Houston destroyed the Thunder on the glass despite starting with and sticking to a small lineup that featured only one big man throughout much, if not all the game. Final numbers: Rockets 57, Thunder 40. On the offensive end: Rockets 19, Thunder 10.
  • Brooks: “It doesn’t add up, other than it did add up. They got the rebounds.”
  • More from Brooks on the boards: “That’s something that we’ve talked about all year. We got to do a much better job. We can’t be the bigger team and be the team that gave up 19 rebounds offensively. That gives them too many opportunities.”
  • Houston had 27 second-chance points.
  • At halftime, 6-foot-1 inch guard Patrick Beverley had six rebounds. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins had that many combined at that point.
  • Beverley finished with 12. Ibaka finished with 11….
  • …Perk finished with six.
  • The Thunder should have punished the Rockets inside. Because OKC couldn’t this is a game that other teams will look at and perhaps grow confident from.
  • On a more positive note, the Thunder did an outstanding job again limiting the Rockets in transition. Just 14 fast break points by Houston tonight. This could have been a
  • James Harden took 20 free throws. Twenty!! 
  • While the Thunder did execute well down the stretch of a close game without Harden, seeing the way he masterfully orchestrated the Thunder’s offense didn’t do anything to stain the memory of what the Thunder once had. He was simply outstanding, slicing into the paint, drawing fouls, earning trips to the foul line and attracting defenders before kicking out to wide open shooters.
  • Russell Westbrook got off to a slow start largely because of early foul trouble. He picked up his second foul with 6:18 left in the first quarter. And then he had an, um, interesting night when he returned in the second.
  • Westbrook and Beverley, two extremely scrappy dudes, got into it and battled from midway through the second quarter on. It stemmed from Beverley rushing in and attempting to steal the ball from Westbrook as he casually brought it across halfcourt with the intention of calling a timeout. Beverley bumped into Westbrook’s right knee, sending Westbrook crashing to the floor and clutching his knee while wincing in obvious discomfort. Wolverine, of course, shook it off and stayed in the game.
  • That play, however, triggered the competitive juices in both, as the two spent much of the rest of the night jawing, staring, swatting and shoving. It was playoff basketball at its best.
  • Westbrook: “It’s fun. During this time of the year, as a team we got one goal and we can’t let nobody get in the way. That’s how I feel and that’s how I want my team to respond as well.”
  • Westbrook nearly let the exchange get the best of him. It almost — almost — turned into one of those meltdown moments. Westbrook was on the verge of turning the game into a personal battle with Beverley. He began jacking shots (four in the next 3 1/2 minutes after the original play) and had that look of revenge in his eye. Sometimes that’s a good thing. This time it was headed the other way. Westbrook started talking smack with Francisco Garcia, who stood and jawed from the bench. He swatted away Beverley’s arm as he attempted to help him up after playing too tight on an inbounds play. And Westbrook raised a forearm to Beverley’s neck area on a fast break (although Beverley sold it by throwing his head back). That last little bit was Westbrook’s third foul, forcing him to set for the remainder of the half. And it was the best thing that could have happened to him and the Thunder at that moment. Just 1:53 remained in the second period, and the Thunder led by just one. The way things were going, Westbrook could have lost his cool and let the Rockets wrestle away the lead and momentum going into the half.
  • With that said, Westbrook settled down in the second half and showed enormous composure. He never let his emotions get the best of him. Big time show of maturity there.
  • If you have any positive feelings toward basketball it’s impossible to not love Patrick Beverley?
  • In my opinion, Beverley’s steal attempt on Westbrook was in no way cheap or dirty. The clock is ticking. The ball is in play. What Beverley did was totally within the rules of the game, and it’s a play numerous point guards make on a nightly basis. Westbrook, I’m sure, has done the same. Can’t fault Beverley for hustling. Because you just never, ever know. Beverley, and the Rockets, would have looked bad had they been caught sleeping. Evidence: Warriors and Hornets. Had Beverley got the steal and a layup at the other end it would have been a great hustle play. But since he brushed Westbrook’s knee and Westbrook reacted the way he did, some want to call it dirty. It wasn’t.
  • Beverley’s play on the ball is sort of like Ibaka boxing out on the free throw line. Opponents hate Ibaka’s all-out effort. It’s over the top and, because of his technical, largely unusual. But in no way is it out of bounds. You either match his energy or get pushed to halfcourt. Simple.
  • Jeremy Lin left the game just before the start of the third quarter with what team officials listed as a right chest contusion. He did not return and his status for Game 3 is unclear. Even though Lin has missed 14 of 18 shots in this series, that could be a big blow to the Rockets simply because Houston doesn’t have much depth. Never mind losing him means the Rockets are down a ball-handler and spot-up shooter.
  • Houston outscored OKC 50-30 in the paint.
  • Derek Fisher played 6 minutes, 30 seconds, all in the first half. DeAndre Liggins played four seconds…slowly but surely.
  • I thought Kevin Martin would shoot much better tonight. He didn’t. He made two big fourth-quarter 3s. But went 1-for-7 the rest of the game. In Game 1, K-Mart provided some hustle plays to offset his off shooting night. Tonight, he didn’t do anything Jeremy Lamb couldn’t have done. That’s worrisome, because the Rockets aren’t good defensively. After this performance, you can’t help but wonder which Martin will show up against a team like, say, Memphis.
  • OKC’s 35 3-pointers were a season-high. Some of it was a result of the zone, but the Thunder got sucked into the small ball style and played Houston’s game.
  • I generally defend the Thunder when folks hoot and holler about a big man. My thoughts typically are along the lines of ‘You want KD, Russ, Ibaka AND a dominant low-post scorer?’ But the Thunder’s inability to dictate matchups and control the paint tonight was borderline embarrassing.
  • Aaron Brooks looked like he hadn’t played basketball in 15 years. He used to be a really good scorer.
  • Kevin Durant didn’t score but four points in the fourth quarter. He hit a 3 and split a pair of free throws. But he had four assists in the final period and nine for the game. Equally important was his one turnover. I continue to be intrigued by Durant’s evolution as a playmaker. Think about how much more dangerous the world’s most dangerous scorer will be once he grows into a consistently reliable dual threat. It’s scary.
  • Up next. Game 3 in Houston on Saturday.

-DM-

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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