OKC Thunder comes up short against Houston Rockets
The Thunder struggled late as the team missed its last nine shot attempts in the final 2 minutes, 10 seconds.
HOUSTON — The downfall was a familiar one. And whether fair or foul, the critics will point to it as another shred of evidence that proves exactly what is holding the Thunder back and why it might not quite be ready to hoist a championship trophy.
Late-game execution escaped Oklahoma City again in a 96-95 loss to Houston on Wednesday night inside the Toyota Center.
But unlike past performances — most notably last year's Western Conference Finals — the team's crunch-time struggles in this one weren't solely a product of settling for jump shots. This time, the Thunder tried different means of manufacturing some pivotal points.
The iron was just too unkind.
Long-range shots lipped out. Mid-range shots missed the mark. Driving shots didn't go. And point-blank looks, the most critical being a 3-foot tip-in attempt by Russell Westbrook with 3.2 seconds remaining, even refused to drop.
After making 10 of its first 15 shots in the fourth quarter, the Thunder missed its last nine attempts in the final 2 minutes, 10 seconds. The last hoist, however, was a desperation fling from three-quarters court by Westbrook.
“Down the stretch, we missed some shots that were good looks,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We normally would make a few of those. We had good rhythm in that fourth quarter, and then we just couldn't make a basket. But they were good looks. The execution was good.”
Many national analysts have labeled the Thunder a jump-shooting team, some even going as far as predicting that recipe will fail to harvest positive results come playoff time. Three of the final eight meaningful attempts Wednesday were indeed 3-point launches, but none were forced and all were relatively sound shots given the time and score.
The other five attempts all came from 16 feet and in, three of them from 10 feet or closer and two being layups.
Kevin Durant, who on Jan. 7 in this same building lifted the Thunder to a three-point win by burying the go-ahead jumper with 22 seconds remaining, uncharacteristically misfired on four straight attempts. He saw a 15-footer from the left elbow rim out, a 3-pointer and a 16-footer fail to go and a 10-foot runner bounce long. Westbrook rebounded Durant's final miss by tapping it straight back toward the rim, but it rolled off as well.
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