* Early in the game, the Thunder did a better job of getting Durant the ball in scoring position. He caught the ball below the circle several times and flourished.
But far too many times, this Thunder offense has regressed to the international distress signal – Durant standing on the wing, Garcia draped all over him, Durant’s hand in the air, asking for a lob pass. That’s not offense. That’s a tired team and tired minds.
* I loved Reggie Jackson’s aggression in the fourth quarter. He scored 11 points and continually got into the paint. If the Thunder can couple that with Durant energy – it was gone in the fourth quarter; either that or his attitude temporarily went south – then it’s got something to build on.
* The Thunder has NOT taken advantage of a depth edge. The Rocket starters in Game 5 played 40:12 (Garcia), 42:01 (Parsons), 37:52 (Omer Asik), 41:34 (Harden) and 38:55 (Beverley). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen all five starters play at least 38 minutes each. The Thunder should be the stronger team down the stretch – and frankly has been the last five minutes of every game until Wednesday night.
* Which made Brooks’ Hack-a-Turk strategy dubious. The Thunder crawled within 93-85 then fouled Asik on six straight possessions. The strategy didn’t cause undue harm on the scoreboard – when it was over, the Rockets led 101-92, with 3:53 left – but the Thunder had squandered 1:40 of playing time.
Here’s why the math doesn’t work so well. Asik was a 56.2-percent foul shooter in the regular season. That means he’s good for 1.1 points per possessions. And indeed, Asik made eight of 12 – after starting three of six. Eight of 12 is 1.25 points per possession.
The Rockets to that point had averaged 1.16 points per possession but were struggling in the fourth quarter – until the Hack-a-Turk, Houston had six points in 13 possessions.
Think about that. The Thunder defense had finally found its footing. And that was a series-long trend. In the last five minutes of the previous three games combined, the Houstons had scored 28 points in 28 possessions.
And Brooks let the Rockets off the hook. Any time you’re struggling, a trip to the foul line is an oasis in the desert, even if it is a 56-percent foul shooter.
* The Thunder had 10 blocked shots in the first half. And zero in the second. Some of that was from the Rockets not attacking quite so much.
* The pick-and-roll game was interesting. Houston got its pick-and-roll going with Asik and a variety of ballhandlers. But the Thunder found some pick-and-roll action with Serge Ibaka and Jackson. Not the pick-and-pop. The pick-and-roll.
Remember when Ibaka had those monster games against the Spurs by nailing mid-range jumpers? Those have disappeared in this series. Ibaka made seven baskets in Game 5: five dunks and two follow shots. Ibaka missed seven shots, including a short hook and five-foot runner. But the other five misses were from the perimeter – 15 feet, 13 feet, 3-pointer, 19 feet, 17 feet. That’s 0-of-5 from outside.
So maybe the Thunder has found something with the pick-and-roll. “We had a little trouble with the Reggie Jackson high pick,” said Houston’s Chandler Parsons. “Because we were denying Durant (you think?) and we didn’t want to leave Fisher in the corner.”
* Harden had been horrible this series – four of 25 on 3-pointers through four games. So he was due a brilliant game. Harden made his first seven 3-pointers and finished 7-of-9. The Thunder has to live with that.
Without Harden, the Rockets were not great from beyond the arc – seven of 26.
“We were due for a couple 40 percent shooting nights from the 3-point line,” McHale said. “We’ve had them on and off all year. I give my guys a lot of freedom to shoot them.”
* Here’s the frustrating part for the Thunder. It won many of the elements of the game that had been a thorn. OKC outscored Houston 50-34 in the paint, 17-10 in second-chance points and 12-8 in fast-break points. The Thunder even would have outscored the Rockets from the foul line, if Asik hadn’t been given all those free trips. The Rockets outscored the Thunder 25-20 on foul shots.
* The Thunder did a much better job on Parsons, who shot 4-of-12 and finished with 10 points.
* Beverley had the last laugh. The crowd won the first half with its booing, but Beverley won the second half, with excellent play. He had 12 second-half points.
“I try to stay under control at the same time,” Beverley said. “I’m very energetic, and I don’t want that to be a negative with my game getting in early foul trouble.”
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