The Thunder played some good offense and some great defense, which is how you win a playoff game 120-91. Our grades reflect such a blowout.
First-quarter defense: A. With 2:05 left in the opening period, Serge Ibaka was called for goaltending a shot off a James Harden drive. Until then, Ibaka had as many blocked shots (two) as the Rockets had baskets. If the whistle had gone the other way, Ibaka would have taken a 3-2 lead over Houston. The Thunder defense swarmed the Rockets most of the quarter. Houston missed 15 of its first 18 shots, setting the tone for the entire game. The Thunder's third-quarter defense was almost as strong; the Rockets made just eight of 24 shots.
Scott Brooks rotations: B. The Thunder coach had some nice moves. Rocket coach Kevin McHale went with a small lineup in the second quarter. But with 3:36 left in the half and the Thunder up 46-44, Brooks went big, playing both Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka. And the Thunder dominated, outscoring Houston 14-3 the rest of the half. But Brooks also stuck with Derek Fisher too long in the first half. When Fisher entered with 1:30 left in the first quarter, OKC led 22-11 and Houston had scored on just six of its 23 possessions. With Fisher on the court, the Rockets scored on 10 of 13 possessions and trailed just 38-35. McHale's guards repeatedly attacked Fisher off the dribble.
T-shirt shaming: C. Sure, everyone but opposing fans should wear the T-shirts (blue Sunday night) provided on the back of each seat. But practice some equity when shaming fans into donning the shirts by showing them on the video screen during pregame. How about goading Thundor, the shirtless masked fat man who tries with a rotating belly to get foes to miss foul shots. Or Kevin Durant's family and friends on the front row, who never seem to wear the shirts. Durant promised to rectify that situation.
Starters: A. Rarely has the Thunder starting lineup been so dominant. The only time Houston made a run, it came with mostly reserves on the court. The Thunder starters had monster plus/minus numbers — OKC outscored Houston by 34 points with Durant on the court, by 29 with Russell Westbrook, by 26 with Ibaka, by 24 with Perkins and by 21 with Thabo Sefolosha. It hardly mattered that the Thunder bench was not particularly effective.
Halftime entertainment: A. Usually, dog acts don't do much for me. But the Olate Dogs, 2012 winners of America's Got Talent, were amazing. Jumping rope, riding a scooter, hopping over barriers on their hind legs, doing back flips, climbing ladders to slide down a slide? Teach those dogs to shoot foul shots, and they could play for a team or two in the Eastern Conference.
Ball movement: A. The Thunder had 28 assists. Westbrook had 10 through three quarters, and three of his four teammates — Durant, Nick Collison, Reggie Jackson — had four each. The Thunder does not lose when it gets into the 28-assist range.
Slump-busting: A. The Thunder missed 13 of its first 18 shots — then made 28 of its next 46 shots and took an 89-66 lead after three quarters, which made the fourth quarter a breeze.