The Thunder's 104-101 survival of the Rockets was a wild game, and the grades reflect that.
Message sending: A. Twenty-nine seconds into the game, Kendrick Perkins leveled a shoulder into Patrick Beverley and was glad to take the foul. In the second quarter, as the Rockets' Jeremy Lin stopped to call timeout, Kevin Durant aggressively swiped at the ball. For all the political correctness since the news of Russell Westbrook's injury, the Thunder was peeved. Who knows if it knocked Beverley off his game, but he was off. The sparkplug for Houston in the first two games picked up three fouls in the first 9 1/2 minutes and finished with just six points in 22 minutes.
First quarter offense: A. The last time Oklahoma City's NBA team played without Russell Westbrook at point guard, the team was the Hornets and they were run by Chris Paul. So this game was a great unknown. But in the first quarter, the Thunder had 22 possessions and scored 39 points. And that included a sluggish start, with three straight empty possessions.
Third-quarter offense: F. The Thunder had 26 possessions and scored 14 points. That's 0.54 points per possession. The Thunder made just five of 25 shots. Kevin Durant was 1-of-7 and started pressing. The Thunder had nine straight empty possessions, allowing Houston to trim a 14-point deficit to four by quarter's end.
Beard celebration: B. The Rockets are trying to embrace the Beard the way Oklahoma City did. During one of the timeout shooting games, the contestant wore a fake beard. The halftime entertainment was Dan Dunn's Paintjam; Dunn literally threw paint together on a huge canvas and produced a portrait of James Harden. Good stuff. In OKC the previous two years, the fans would have gone nuts. In Houston, it seemed to be moderate amusement.
Transition defense: C. The Thunder defense was mostly solid — the Rockets shot just 43.4 percent from the field, including 32 of 47 from 3-point range. But the Rockets scored 17 fast-break points. The Thunder figures to slow down without Westbrook, and indeed OKC had just six transition points itself. But it has to slow down the Rockets.
Atmosphere: D. Playing in the Toyota Center isn't like playing in Portland or Salt Lake or Oakland or any of the NBA's most rabid arenas. The Toyota Center was not full for Houston's first home playoff game in four years, and whatever anticipation was sucked from the building with the Thunder's torrid start. The Rocket crowd's biggest contribution was booing — it booed Durant during pregame introductions, an NBA rarity; booed Kevin Martin, who spent the previous 2 1/2 seasons with the Rockets; and booed Derek Fisher, who declined to play for Houston when he was traded by the Lakers 14 months ago.
Rebounding: A. The Thunder mysteriously was hurt on the boards in Game 2. But not in Game 3. The Thunder dominated from the outset, outscoring Houston 18-9 in second-chance points. Houston missed 47 shots but got only 10 offensive rebounds, an excellent percentage by the Thunder. Kevin Durant had 13 defensive rebounds. Thabo Sefolosha had eight.