The Thunder-Rockets series lives. Serge Ibaka’s putback at the buzzer barely got above the rim, and the Rockets survived 105-103. Here’s what I saw and heard:
* Kevin Durant’s numbers for this series: 42:04 minutes a game, 33.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 48.8 field-goal percentage. And 3.5 turnovers. Just going to have to live with the turnovers.
Durant’s efficiency was amazing. He had 30 “usages,” which means he ended 30 possessions. And scored 38 points. That’s a fantastic game. Chandler Parsons had a superb game for the Rockets — and scored 27 points on 27 usages. If you’re scoring at home, Durant’s four misses came on a 19-footer in the first quarter, a desperation 3-point shot just before the halftime buzzer, a 19-footer in the third quarter and a fourth-quarter drive blocked by Omer Asik. So that’s one miss a quarter for a guy who scored 38 points.
But here’s a disturbing trend: of Durant’s 12 points, only two or three came in the paint. He scored on six mid-range jumpers (counting a 20-foot fallaway as a mid-range), three short jumpers, one 3-pointer, one driving dunk and one follow shot. The Thunder is not finding ways to get Durant easy shots.
* Kevin Martin’s two first halves in Houston: 26 points, 7-of-14 shooting, three rebounds, four assists, one turnover.
Kevin Martin’s two second halves in Houston: two points, 1-of-8 shooting, one rebound, one assist, two turnovers.
The first-half production is all-star caliber. The second-half production would shame Ronnie Brewer. The best part of this game for the Thunder was when Durant and Martin carried the scoring load. Durant returned from a rest, early second quarter, and Houston led 34-31. OKC went on a 10-0 run, with Durant and Martin each scoring five points.
“I just need to keep playing aggressive,” Circle K said.
* Durant played less point guard in Game 4. And that’s a good thing. That’s not a long-term solution to the Russell Westbrook void. That will wear out Durant quicker than anything.
* Durant on the final possession, when Francisco Garcia played good defense on Durant, forcing a pass to Reggie Jackson: “We were just trying to get a shot. They did a good job of closing the paint up on us … Reggie (Jackson) had a lane, he missed a tough shot and Serge (Ibaka) had an opportunity to tip it in, but unfortunately it didn’t go our way, so we have to move on to Game 5.
* Durant’s game-deciding 3-pointer in Game 4, which bounced high off the back rim, back onto the front rim and nestled through via the back rim, was hot on the Rockets’ minds in that last possession.
“KD has already proven that he can already make those shots, even if they bounce on the rim four times,” said Houston coach Kevin McHale. “So we try to make someone else take the shot. It was really an efficient game by Kevin, because we were trying to get the ball out of his hands, and the guy had 38 points. It kind of frightens you to think if you weren’t trying to get the ball out of his hands, what do you do? It was a hell of a game by him, but it was a great win by us.”
* The worst part of the game was not necessarily the first three minutes of the second half, when the Rockets went on a 10-0 run to wipe out a 60-53 halftime deficit. That was bad. The last minute of the first half was worse. Martin’s 3-pointer gave the Thunder a 58-45 lead, and the Rockets were on the ropes. But Carlos Delfino hit a 3-pointer, and after Durant sank two foul shots with 34.8 seconds left, James Harden drove, was fouled and sank two foul shots. Then Delfino stole the ball from Durant, who was trying to bring the ball upcourt, and nailed a 3-pointer. Win that final minute 2-0 or 4-2, and the Thunder has a 15-point halftime lead. Instead, the Thunder had a seven-point halftime lead.
* Houston’s third-quarter blitz was completely attributed to attitude. The Rockets went ultra-aggressive and attacked the basket. They had launched a bunch of 3-pointers in the first half — 17 — but scaled back to 10 in the second half. Houston attacked the basket and was rewarded with a variety of easier shots.
“We wanted to come out and be aggressive,” said Houston’s Garcia. “Especially we got to win this game or we’re going home, so we wanted to be aggressive, push the ball, and play defense as a team.”
* This reminds me a lot of the 2011 Thunder-Denver series. Remember that one? The Thunder won Game 1 with a big comeback, then blew out the Nuggets in Game 2. Went to Denver, won a tight Game 3, then lost a tight Game 4. Came back to OKC and won a tight Game 5.
* Jackson was solid. He’s not getting into the paint nearly enough, but he’s mostly taking care of the ball. Jackson had two turnovers, but one was an offensive foul. In two games in Houston, Jackson had 32 points, made 10 of 24 shots, four of seven 3-pointers, with six rebounds, four assists and five turnovers. The assists will grow if Jackson starts getting into the lane. The points will, too.
* The Thunder has to figure out a way to get Ibaka more involved offensively. He was just 3-of-8 shooting, with eight points and five rebounds. The pick’n pops have dried up for Ibaka, with no Westbrook. If Jackson can penetrate more, it will open up Ibaka. But it just goes to show that the pick-and-roll game is not a magic formula. The magic is in the ballhandler.
* My only gripe with Jackson, he feel in love with his 3-pointer a little much. He sank a big trey to bring the Thunder within 100-98 with 4:54. But Jackson launched 3-pointers on the next two possessions, and the Thunder never found an offensive flow the rest of the game. In those final 4:54, The shot clock was running down on the first of those two misses, but not on the second. The rest of the Thunder possessions were: a shot clock violation, wiping out a Derek Fisher 3-pointer that appeared to bring the Thunder with 98-101, a Durant offensive foul, two straight Durant buckets, a charging foul on Durant and the fateful last play, when Jackson drove in and tossed up a shot over Asik. Then Serge missed the easy follow shot.
* Fisher is amazing. He’s come back to life. Fisher barely played in Game 2, but Scotty Brooks has no choice with Westbrook out. Fish has to play. And he’s played well. In two Houston games, Fisher totaled 53 minutes, 21 points, 7-of-13 shooting, 5-of-8 on 3-pointers and, best of all, solid defense. Fisher was beaten off the dribble only a time or two. No Thunder has elevated his game like has Fisher.
* Kendrick Perkins was no help in Game 4. He had two fouls in the first 2:52 and sat out the rest of the half. Then he played the first 6:45 of the third quarter. The Thunder was outscored 31-14 with Perk on the floor. But he was missed. Asik scored 12 points in the 281/2 minutes he played with Perkins on the bench.
* I loved DeAndre Liggins’ minutes. He was +7 in plus/minus — the Thunder outscored the Rockets by seven with Liggins on the court. Liggins is the example of what the Thunder must do. The Thunder has to be more defensive-minded. When Brewer takes the court, you know Brooks has gotten really serious about this defense thing.
* In two Houston games, the Thunder made 21 of 51 3-pointers. That’s 41.1 percent. In two Houston games, the Thunder made 43.5 percent on 2-pointers. I can’t stress this enough. The Thunder has got to find a way to get more easy shots. Without Westbrook, the Thunder’s paint points are drying up — it had 30 in Game 3, 22 in Game 4. The Rockets had 86 points in the paint in the two games combined.
* Our man Darnell Mayberry says the Thunder might need to increase the tempo, try for more transition points. He could be onto something. On the other hand, a quicker tempo will lead to more turnovers. OKC had 11 turnovers in Game 3, which is better than acceptable. But the Thunder had 22 in Game 4. The Thunder can protect the ball. The 11 in Game 3, plus the Thunder went a stretch of 9:44 in the first half without a turnover. It can be done.
* Houston’s quick start was the result of leaky Thunder defense — 13 points on the Rockets’ first six possessions — but it’s not like the Thunder offense was rousing at the start. Durant didn’t have so much as a shot or get fouled until the 6:18 mark. That’s almost half a quarter with no Durant. If Westbrook’s on the court, you could forgive that. But that’s cataclysmic when Westbrook is gone.
“Durant was very efficient,” said Rocket Chandler Parsons. “He was 12 for 16, but we did a great job of making other guys try and beat us and make plays, and that’s what we gotta from here on out. He’s too good to be going one-on-one with.”
* Upon further review, the Thunder would have been much better off had Patrick Beverley, who was playing in Russia as recently as New Year’s, suffered a chest contusion instead of Jeremy Lin. Beverley has been much more effective than has been Lin.
“He’s a tough kid,” McHale said of Beverley. “I mean, he really is. He’s a tough, hard-nose guy who’s not going to back down. He’s not afraid to take shots, he’s a nice kid to be around.”
McHale offered up this story: “We brought him up from Russia, we had a practice and they said, we’ll send him down to the D-League after the practice. And I thought, ‘OK, we’re trying to develop a guy.’ I looked at them and said, ‘Why are we sending him to the D-League?’ I said, ‘Let’s keep him up here. The guy is running around, scrambling, rebounding.’ I said, ‘the guy has more energy than the five guys he’s playing against combined.’ He just snuck up here and got a chance to play. He’s really making the most of it. I’m really happy for Patrick. He had a long road to the NBA, and it’s always nice. He really appreciates it.”
* That doesn’t mean Beverley won’t be vilified in Game 5. We were talking about it on the trip back from Houston. We figure Beverley will be more booed by the OKC crowd than was Metta World Chaos last April after his elbowing of James Harden.
* To review, the Thunder won Game 1 in a blowout. Since then, the scores have been 105-102, 104-101 and 105-103, with the Thunder winning all but the latter.
“It means a lot … just to get this first one under our belt,” Harden said. “The previous two games, we let both slip away. Then having the lead late in the fourth quarter, and just giving it away. Now we have confidence going back to Oklahoma City, and anything can happen.”