Perhaps most impressive was the Thunder’s team defense on Dwight Howard, who was held to nine points on 4-for-12 shooting with 10 rebounds. With customary starter Kendrick Perkins still sidelined, rookie center Steven Adams started on Howard and was solid making his catches tough and contesting his shots. Hasheem Thabeet, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka then tag-teamed to help limit the Rockets’ All-Star center.
“It’s one game, but I thought we did a great job locking up to start the game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “The physicality that makes us a good basketball team was good tonight. The toughness that we brought to the floor for 48 minutes is what makes us a good team. And we just have to build from here.”
A rematch against the Lakers looms Thursday. It’ll be a chance for the Thunder to atone for Sunday’s embarrassing showing inside Staples Center, but more importantly to prove that this Tuesday was not a one-night fluke.
The Rockets, now 15-3 since Jan. 28, entered the game averaging 112.5 points since the break, with three of their past five wins coming against Miami, Indiana and Portland. With the Thunder yielding 110.2 points per game, 10.6 3-pointers and 47.4 percent shooting since the break, Tuesday’s game easily could have turned ugly.
Instead, the Thunder showed a renewed pride in stopping its opponent.
And judging by the attitudes in the Thunder’s dressing room after the game, Tuesday may have been the first step toward OKC figuring out how to get out of this uncharacteristic funk.
“We stayed in front of our man for the most part,” said Durant. “We helped each other out a lot, better than we’ve been doing before, and we made them shoot tough shots…We covered every aspect of our defense.”