Here's how bad the Thunder defense was Wednesday night — the boys in blue had to resort to a gimmick in crunch time.
Facing a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit that it just couldn't seem to whittle down, the Thunder went to Hack-an-Asik. It intentionally fouled Houston center Omer Asik and sent him to the line on six consecutive possessions. It was the only way Scott Brooks and the Thunder thought they could slow down the Rockets.
It didn't work.
Rockets 107, Thunder 100.
On a night when the Thunder struggled mightily on offense, it struggled every bit as much on defense. The Rockets shot 47.2 percent, but it felt like 77.2 percent. They nailed 14 3-pointers. They scored 30 points in the first quarter, which seemed like a lot until they scored 37 points in the third quarter.
“They shot the ball so well,” Brooks said. “Some were contested. Some were not contested.
“We have to do a better job.”
No holes in that theory.
If the Thunder doesn't do better, it will make history. It will become the first team in NBA history to lose a playoff series that it led 3-0.
Part of the Thunder's defensive woes has to do with Russell Westbrook being out. No two ways around that. For as much as the Thunder point guard does for the offense, he does a great job on defense. He can cause havoc. He can stop penetration. He can step in passing lanes.
“They miss him everywhere,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “Miss him in the locker room. Miss him on the bus. Miss him on offense. Miss him on defense.
“Did I miss anything?”
But Westbrook's absence doesn't explain away the problems that the Thunder is having on defense. He wouldn't be guarding Francisco Garcia or Chandler Parsons or Asik in this series.
Those guys combined for 49 points on Wednesday night.
James Harden is going to score his points. The Thunder knows that, and while it would just as soon not allow the bearded one to score 30 or more like he has in three of these five playoff games, Oklahoma City can live with that.
What it can't stomach is double digits from every single Houston starter like the Rockets had Wednesday night.
“They play four guards on the floor, and they spread you out,” Brooks said. “Defensively, it's always about matching up in transition when you're playing against smaller, quicker teams.”
The Rockets have clearly found the soft spots in the Thunder defense.
“We've gotta move the ball,” Harden said. “That's the only way we can be effective against this team. We have to move the ball, be in attack mode and be ready to shoot for 48 minutes.
“Tonight, we put a 48-minute game together.”
And when the Thunder couldn't cut the Rockets' lead to single digits in the fourth quarter, it started to intentionally foul Asik.
“Scotty went with, what would that be called?” McHale said. “Hack-a-Turk?”
And for a bit, it looked like it just might be a great strategy as Asik missed three of his first six free throws after the intentionals started. But in the end, he made 7 of 12 free throws on those six possessions.
Houston still led by nine points.
Seemed that little that Oklahoma City did on the defensive end worked.
“On defense,” Durant said, “we've got to do a better job from top to bottom.”
This is a team that talks about how important defense is to it. Friday night, it needs to play that way.