The Thunder fought hard in Houston on Monday night but fell short of a four-game sweep of the Rockets, and the grades reflect it:
Durant opportunities: C. Kevin Durant had just 16 shots. Of course, he made 12 of them, plus 13 of 15 foul shots. Add those to his seven turnovers, and that's 30 possessions for Durant. That's what Durant had in Game 3, his first without the injured Russell Westbrook. But the Thunder needs more than that from Durant with Westbrook gone. Aside from Durant's 12-of-16, the Thunder shot 41 percent from the field.
Defending Harden: A. Thabo Sefolosha was excellent down the stretch guarding James Harden. On the Rockets' final three possessions, Harden went one-on-one with Sefolosha. Harden settled for three jump shots and missed them all. Harden scored 15 points but made just four of 12 shots and committed 10 turnovers. Sefolosha got some first-half help. Harden's only flurry was in the third quarter, when he scored nine points, most in transition. Harden went scoreless in the fourth quarter. When Harden got his fifth foul with 6:53 left in the game, Kevin McHale kept Harden on the bench for 31/2 minutes.
Ballhandling: D. I know the Thunder is playing without its point guard, but 20 turnovers is way too many. Five of those were offensive fouls, but 15 ball snafus is too many, plus the Thunder wasn't crisp with its passing or offensive sets. The Rockets can be pesky, but they're not any kind of defensive juggernaut. The Thunder has to clean that up, else a potential West semifinal will be over quickly, in the wrong direction.
Bench: B. Nick Collison didn't play particularly well, and still the Thunder reserves were good. Kevin Martin had 16 points (14 in the first half), Derek Fisher sank four 3-pointers for 12 points and DeAndre Liggins supplied 14 valuable minutes of defense. With Westbrook gone, sometimes it's hard to remember who's a reserve. But the Thunder bench gave OKC a chance to win.
Good-luck charms: A. The Thunder was flanked by a couple of notable loyalists. Flamboyant NBA fan Jimmy Goldstein, who flies all over the country watching playoff games but has expressed his devotion to the Thunder during its rise the last couple of years, sat just to Scotty Brooks' right on the front row. Lorelei Decker, a 19-year-old who graduated from Putnam North, sat 15 rows behind the Thunder bench. Decker, who is fighting Refractory Hodgkin's Lymphoma and was in Houston to undergo treatment, has been adopted by the Thunder as an honorary coach.
Starts to half: F. The Rockets scored on the first six possessions of the game, and the Thunder committed turnovers on three of their first possessions. That made for a 13-4 getaway for Houston. In the second half, the Rockets scored on their first five possessions and the Thunder scored on none of its first five possessions, with two turnovers. That made for a 10-0 Rocket start.
Resting Durant: A. Scotty Brooks played Durant all but 44 seconds of Game 3. He gave Durant much more rest Monday night. Durant played 42 minutes. He sat out the first 2:28 of the fourth quarter, and the Thunder played the Rockets even, 5-5, during that rest. Durant sat out 4:32 overlapping the first and second quarters, and the Thunder outscored Houston 11-10 during that time. Brooks also limited Durant's minutes as the point guard, which can be a physically demanding position.
Defensive rotations: B. Brooks' first substitute was Liggins, who played the next 10:42 and supplied energetic defense on mostly Chandler Parsons. Liggins had four rebounds and a steal (not to mention swishing a 3-pointer from the corner). But Brooks might have waited too long to insert Liggins in the second half. Liggins didn't enter the third quarter until 58.8 seconds remained.