Wow. Didn’t see that coming. Not the 44-19 start. Not the epic collapse. Not the get-off-the-mat-and-win-one-for-the-Gimper
This Thunder squadron is full of surprises. The Thunder’s 104-101 victory over the Rockets on Saturday night was one of the monumental games in Oklahoma City’s seven-year NBA history. Here’s what I saw and heard.
* Kevin Durant was on a 68-point pace after one quarter and a 54-point pace at halftime. I don’t think the Durantula will hit 68 points in a game these playoffs. But I’ll bet he hits 54.
* I don’t know which maneuver I like better. Durant’s dribble-up 3-pointers or his dribble-up-then-go-to-the-rack and dunk. Those dunks are something. You’ve got to stop Durant at about the 12-foot mark, else he’s unstoppable.
* With that said, I think Durant got tired. He clearly was fatigued in the third quarter and early fourth. The Rockets were running an extra defender at him on occasion, trying to either force Durant to pass off or create in traffic. That will wear down the best of them. Remember, Durant is in many ways better than Russell Westbrook, but he’s not the physical marvel that Westbrook is. Westbrook is as ferocious in the fourth quarter as he is in the first. With that said, Durant caught his second wind. Durant made three of his final five shots and twice got into the lane and got fouled. He scored 11 points in the final 81/2 minutes. “I just listen to Coach,” Durant said. “He tells me to stay in, I stay in. He pulls me out, I go out.”
* You can’t blame Scotty Brooks for playing Durant all but 44 seconds. Brooks even joked that he showed mental toughness by making Durant sit at all. “I didn’t want to do it,” Brooks said. But you had to think Brooks smelled blood. With that 48-22 lead early in the second quarter, Brooks probably thought this could be a game to sit Durant the entire fourth quarter. Keep the foot on the petal, and KD wouldn’t be necessary down the stretch.
* That all changed when the Thunder offense stagnated. It stagnated for many reasons. Durant’s fatigue. The Rockets turned a little desperate, as a team on the brink should. And not all of Durant’s sidekicks produced.
* Serge Ibaka was all kinds of fantastic. Seventeen points, 11 rebounds, seven of them offensive. Ibaka was huge down the stretch. His fallaway jumper off an offensive rebound restored the lead to the Thunder 95-94 with 3:13 left. Then Ibaka’s circus shot, some kind of reverse-under-the-basket layup in traffic, off a Kevin Martin pass with the shot clock expiring, made it 97-94. Going forward, the Thunder has to get the ball more to Ibaka. A bunch of his shots came off offensive rebounds.
* But Kevin Martin did not show. His first half was excellent — 12 points, 3-of-5 shooting — but Martin missed all six of his second-half shots, and some of his misses weren’t close. Some were painfully off the mark. You have to worry that the moment is too big for Circle K. This series constitutes the three biggest games of his life, and he’s 11 of 35 shooting, with 38 points total. Martin has to step up, not down, for the Thunder in Westbrook’s absence. “He made some shots we needed,” Brooks said. “He’s been a shotmaker his entire career. He didn’t make a couple of them, but he’s done it his whole career. Hopefully he’ll come back and make them Monday night.”
* Thabo Sefolosha was just 1-of-7 shooting — and played a whale of a game. His defense on James Harden was north of fabulous (Harden shot 9-of-22, and though he got 15 foul shots, Harden made only 10; I think he was worn out, too) and Thabo had nine rebounds, eight of them defensive. Thabo’s shooting will be fine.
* Harden was not good down the stretch. He threw a bad pass into the front row with 1:49 left and the Thunder up one. Then after Durant’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 41.9 seconds left, Durant fired a pass into the lane that was picked off by Derek Fisher. “I was just trying to find my shooters,” Harden said. “I couldn’t get any lift on my shot or my passes. Just a terrible basketball play. I don’t know what to say.”