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.”
* Kendrick Perkins didn’t play much but played well. In 161/2 minutes, Gran Torino had two points and four rebounds and four personal fouls. We’ll all remember that opening foul when he body-blocked Patrick Beverley to let the Rockets know everyone north of the Red River is chapped at the Rocket sparkplug, for the collision with Westbrook. But Perk’s other fouls were just as important. When he fouled, the Rockets knew it. And Perkins kept Omer Asik off the boards. Asik got just one shot and one offensive rebound. Perkins’ plus/minus was +7. That was the second-best on the squad.
* The best plus/minus belonged to Derek Fisher. I take back every bad thing I said about Fish. Can someone be spectacularly solid? Fisher was. He played 241/2 minutes and had nine points, an assist, a steal, two foul shots with 12.5 seconds left that gave the Thunder a three-point lead and solid defense. Fisher was burned in Game 1 repeatedly. Not so in Game 3. Fisher even was matched up on Harden for a few possessions and played him tough. There’s a reason Foreman Scotty has the big job. He knows what he’s doing.
* Reggie Jackson was solid: 25 minutes, 14 points, 3-of-6 shooting, 4-of-4 from the foul line including a pair of swishers with 8.1 seconds left. Jackson is no Westbrook, and I don’t know what the Thunder will do next round, but Jackson is a solid player.
* Great strategic question. After Harden’s final turnover, 29.9 seconds remained, with the Thunder up one. Do you foul, if you’re the Rockets? Coach Kevin McHale didn’t want to foul. But Francisco Garcia grabbed Derek Fisher with 12.5 seconds left. “I was screaming not to foul,” McHale said. “Before that, I was trying to get a timeout. I don’t know, we didn’t get it called. Normally when coaches call timeout, you can get it. I don’t know. I ran on the court.”
* Harden on the Thunder playing without Westbrook: “They’re still a good team. They still have one of the best players in basketball. One of the best shot blockers in basketball and some other very good players. They’re here for a reason. They’re the No. 1 season for a reason.”
* Nick Collison went 2-of-9 shooting. He and Thabo were a combined 3-of-16. That won’t happen again.
* Francisco Garcia played 61/2 minutes in Game 2. He played 32 minutes in Game 3, had 18 points and excellent defense on Durant. The playoffs are about finding things in the course of a series. Houston found something in Garcia on Saturday night. “I still caught the ball,” Durant said. “I got to the rim. I missed some shots I should have made. I’m a veteran now. Words and physical play doesn’t take me out of my game.”
* Hard to think that Beverley was NOT affected by all the hoopla over Westbrook’s injury. Beverley was not the same player in Game 3 we saw in Oklahoma City. He had as many fouls (five) as baskets and assists combined.
* Question: Why doesn’t Harden drive every single time? I mean, the Thunder played great defense on him, but Harden was 7-of-14 on shots inside the arc and he didn’t take mid-rangers that I remember. Plus those 15 foul shots. He’s danged hard to guard. When he’s shooting 3-pointers, the opposition is happy.