HOUSTON — Scott Brooks never has seemed to mind how simple his coaching philosophies might sound.
Even after losing his All-Star point guard, even after two straight losses, including one highly disappointing home defeat, and even after getting peppered with questions in the last two days about what he would change and how he would adjust, Brooks wasn't about to start now.
And so Friday, on the morning that his team would get its third crack at closing out the pesky and suddenly hot Houston Rockets, Brooks, sure enough, kept it simple.
“The biggest word in a lot of playoff talk just happens to be adjustments,” Brooks said. “But the biggest adjustment is always playing better. And we have to play better … That's our mindset going into this. Play better. That's going to be our adjustment.”
By and large, Brooks got exactly what he was banking on, and the Thunder finally got past the eighth-seeded Rockets, securing a 4-2 series win after a 103-94 road victory inside the Toyota Center.
The win allowed the Thunder to avoid going to Game 7 with Houston, putting an end to any and all pressure Oklahoma City might have faced in flirting with becoming the first team in NBA playoff history to lose a series after taking a 3-0 lead.
“I thought that was one of our best Thunder team wins that we've had all season,” Brooks said. “I thought the guys really laid everything on the line. That's what playoff basketball is all about. That's what team basketball is all about.”
The Thunder now moves on to face Memphis in the Western Conference semifinals. It will be the second time in three seasons that the two teams have meet in the second round. Oklahoma City won in seven games in the 2011 playoffs.
Game 1 is Sunday at noon inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
It wasn't always pretty during Friday's closeout game at Houston. But the Thunder prevailed after being powered by a resurgent defense.
Oklahoma City held the Rockets below 100 points for only the second time in this series. The Thunder hadn't displayed such a defensive effort since Game 1.
Although the Rockets made 14 of 32 3-pointers, the second time they sank that many, the Thunder limited Houston to 41.1 percent shooting and scored 23 points off 16 turnovers. The Rockets' turnovers tied Game 2 for the second most they had in the series.
But perhaps no stretch of defense matched the fourth quarter clamps Oklahoma City put on Houston. The Thunder held the Rockets to 17 points in the game- and series-clinching period. Houston's point total in the period tied its third quarter of Game 2 for the second fewest the Rockets scored in any period this series. Oklahoma City held Houston to a series-low 14 points in the fourth period of Game 4 but lost that game by two points.