HOUSTON â€” While most of his teammates had already dressed and darted for the team bus, Nick Collison sat at his locker with the bottom half of his uniform still on and his left foot soaking in a yellow bucket of ice. Every few seconds, the Thunderâ€™s power forward shook his head ever so slightly as he stared into the distance.
He couldnâ€™t stop his mind from mulling over the point-blank layup he missed midway through the second quarter.
Across the visitorâ€™s locker room inside the Toyota Center, Jeff Green sullenly stated his own shame over the two offensive rebounds he blamed himself for allowing Houston to grab inside the final five minutes.
Both wondered what if Sunday night.
But neither could empathize with what Kevin Durant was feeling.
Durant short-armed a fadeaway 20-footer from the right wing as time expired that allowed Houston to hang on to a 99-98 win over the Thunder. After the would be game-winner bounced off the front of the rim and chipped another part of the iron before falling harmlessly to the floor, Durant leapt twice and pumped his fist in disbelief.
â€œItâ€™s frustrating, man,â€ Durant said of his missed game-winner. â€œIâ€™ve been working so hard on that only to come up short time after time. But I got to keep being positive, keep believing and keep working. Hopefully itâ€™ll start to change. Iâ€™ve had one in four years.â€
Durantâ€™s lone game-winner came as a rookie at Atlanta on Nov. 16 â€” 10 games into his professional career. Sundayâ€™s game was Durantâ€™s 251st.
â€œKevin is going to make a lot of those shots in his career,â€ said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. â€œThe shot was on line. It was just a little short.â€
For the first time this season, the Thunder came up short. After heading to Houston on the heels of a gutsy four-point overtime win at Indiana on Friday night, the Thunder (11-6) dropped its first game when the margin is eight points or fewer. The Thunder had been 8-0 in those games, which only added to the sting of this loss for players like Collison and Green, who both felt just a tad more effort could have altered Sundayâ€™s result.
But, really, the entire Thunder roster can look back on this one and question the effort.
Oklahoma City watched a short-handed Houston team outwork and outhustle it throughout the gameâ€™s first 24 minutes. Miraculously, the Thunder trailed only 50-42 halftime. But the lack of energy early was just one facet of the Thunderâ€™s performance that was atypical. The Thunder, the leagueâ€™s leading foul shooting team, clanked free throws (making just 15 of 23) and allowed the Rockets to dominate the rebounding game, winning it 44-36 but pulling down 16 offensive rebounds.
â€œThe 16 offensive rebounds, thatâ€™s hard to overcome,â€ Brooks said. â€œAnd we donâ€™t miss free throws. Thatâ€™s one area that I always know weâ€™re going to be good at. But tonight was not normal for us.â€
Itâ€™s also not often youâ€™ll see a player such as Rockets forward Shane Battier outplaying Durant. Battier scored 11 of his 18 points in the third quarter to thwart a Thunder run when it finally did muster some energy. Battier made seven of 11 shots for his point total, while Durant netted 18 points on 7-for-18 shooting.
Durantâ€™s teammates, though, are sticking with him and will make sure his spirits remain high.
â€œKD is our go-to guy,â€ Green said. â€œWeâ€™re going to keep giving him the ball in those (late-game) situations. We know those shots are going to fall for him eventually. He has great looks and he can shoot over anybody. So weâ€™re going to keep giving him the ball. We have a lot of faith in him.â€