The NBA stages post-game press conferences for star players after every playoff game. Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had shared the dais after most Thunder playoff games the previous four years.
Westbrook was missing Saturday after undergoing season-ending knee surgery in Colorado, but Durant didn't take the stage alone following the Thunder's 104-101 victory over Houston in Game 3 at the Toyota Center.
David Gomez, a boy from McAllen, Texas, sat next to Durant, who went against NBA protocol and brought his young friend with him.
“I met this guy when we played down here this season,” Durant said. “He brings us good luck. He's sitting there for Russell.”
Gomez often chats during pregame warm-ups with several Thunder team members, including coach Scott Brooks.
TO THE POINT
Westbrook was held out of preseason games at Utah and Chicago this season, but Saturday was the first time he did not play in 439 career games during the regular season and postseason.
Second-year player Reggie Jackson and 17-year veteran Derek Fisher filled in for Westbrook, combining for 23 points (6 for 12 from the field), three rebounds, two assists and one steal. Westbrook's season averages were 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 1.8 steals.
“The guys came in and they both stepped up,” Brooks said. “Reggie did just a terrific job. I'm proud of the way he played. He kept his composure during some tough moments of the game. His last five minutes, you would think that he was playing for six or seven years, but it's a great testament to his character.”
Durant was particularly pleased with Jackson's composure when Houston made a furious comeback in the second half.
“I thought Reggie did a great job of keeping us calm,” Durant said. “When they made that run, he was calm that whole fourth quarter. Fish did some great things at the point guard, too.”
Durant and Houston forward Chandler Parsons are both 24 years old and have become friends, but they're separated by four years in the NBA because Durant was drafted at age 18.
They met when Chandler attended Durant's Nike Skill Academy during the summer of 2010.
“He's an unbelievable guy,” Parsons said of Durant. “His work ethic is unbelievable, and it's crazy how good he is. I met him a while ago and he's a good dude. His work ethic is really impressive and I look up to him.”
Brooks said his team did not play as fast as usual in Game 3, and that was by design because without Westbrook, OKC wants to control tempo.
“I definitely want to run with numbers and missed shots, but not makes,” Brooks said.
The Rockets outscored the Thunder 17-6 in fast-break points, but Houston took 28 shots that came less than 10 seconds since a possession change. The Thunder took just eight.
After the Thunder's 120-91 blowout victory in Game 1, the last two games have been decided by three points, both in favor of OKC.
“We feel we should be up 2-1 right now, and we're down 0-3,” Parsons said. “We're never going to give up until we lose four games or we win four games. They've still got to beat us one more time. That's our mentality going (forward). It's a one-game series from now on. We're not going to hang our heads. We're frustrated and we're heartbroken right now, but we've got to use this feeling right now and get better tomorrow and then be ready Monday night because the series is not over yet.”
DRAW A LINE
The Thunder has led the NBA in team free-throw percentage the last three seasons and might trail Houston in the series 2-1 if it did not continue to excel at the line.
OKC shot 82.8 percent on free throws during the regular season and has shot 85.4 percent in three games against the Rockets, who have struggled at 73.0 percent.
The Thunder was 11 for 12 (. 917) in the second half of Game 3, while Houston was 10 for 15 (. 667).
Fisher on the key to making free throws and his thoughts on Jackson calmly sinking two with 8.0 seconds remaining in Game 3: “Just step up there and trust your training. It helps to see a teammate step up there and knock a couple down. Reggie's a cool customer. I think he's wise beyond his years and his age. He stepped up there and knocked down a couple. Those are the types of things we're going to need to have, where everybody feels good stepping into the moment.”
BY BERRY TRAMEL, DARNELL MAYBERRY AND JOHN ROHDE