OKC Thunder: Commitment to defense lifts Thunder past Rockets

OKC shuts down Houston’s Dwight Howard, breaks out of funk with home win.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: March 11, 2014


photo - Houston Rockets guard Pat Beverley (2) drives around Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Houston Rockets guard Pat Beverley (2) drives around Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

They claimed Tuesday’s difference had nothing to do with the opponent.

They claimed that Patrick Beverley’s annoying presence and play didn’t fire them up and spark a much-needed defensive turnaround.

The Thunder, to a man, claimed that the inspired performance we saw inside Chesapeake Energy Arena had everything to do with them and nothing to do with the Houston Rockets, a rising Western Conference contender and the hottest team in basketball over the past month and a half.

“We was already ready to go,” insisted Russell Westbrook following the Thunder’s impressive 106-98 win. “I mean, we lost two in a row.”

How about we just say facing the feisty Rockets didn’t hurt?

After a string of disappointing defensive efforts over the past three weeks, including two straight weekend road losses at Phoenix and against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Thunder reverted to a more familiar clamp-down style and put an end to Houston’s five-game winning streak. The transformation took place the moment Beverley reignited the bad blood between these two teams midway through the opening period.

In a similar fashion to the questionable play from Game 2 of last year’s postseason series, the Rockets’ point guard banged his body against Westbrook as he was motioning for a timeout near the Thunder’s bench. In their first meeting since that April night, it took just six minutes for the two to have to be separated. But the incident immediately inspired the Thunder even more.

Kevin Durant responded by scoring eight straight Thunder points to help OKC turn a four-point deficit into a two-point lead. He contributed 10 of his game-high 42 points in those final six minutes of the period to give the Thunder a 26-24 lead entering the second quarter, and OKC turned up the defensive intensity to keep the run-and-gun Rockets in check the rest of the first half.

The Thunder walked into halftime with a 56-41 lead after holding Houston to 35.1 percent shooting. At one point late in the second quarter, the Rockets had nearly as many turnovers (eight) as made field goals (nine).

Unlike many of the previous eight games out of the All-Star break, the Thunder displayed focus and commitment to defense, getting back in transition, closing out on shooters, helping teammates when beat, closing out possessions with rebounds and showing communication and second and third efforts that haven’t been seen consistently since early February.


by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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