The Thunder's big men, Collison, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, fortified fantastic first efforts by Sefolosha and Kevin Durant and kept Harden in check much of the night. Some mix of those five defenders sandwiched Harden all over the court, cutting off his driving lanes while preventing proper passes to open teammates. With two bodies glued to Harden, the Thunder successfully shut down the Rockets' pick-and-roll game and, ultimately, Houston's high-octane attack.
“We all tried to be aggressive and make him pass the ball,” said Ibaka, who scored 23 points with nine rebounds and six blocked shots, including two on Harden layups. “Make the other guys make plays for them.”
Houston's other prized pickup, point guard Jeremy Lin, suffered from the same deadly dose of defense. He scored just six points on 3-for-7 shooting in 41 minutes — making Lin and Harden a combined 6-for-23 for 23 points. Harden, who was perhaps the best playmaker on the Thunder, dished just three assists and had three turnovers.
The swarming defense, in the face of Harden pressing the issue, showed exactly what this game meant despite players on both sides — Harden chief among them — attempting to downplay the matchup.
“I'm glad he's doing well out there in Houston, but we wanted this win bad,” Durant finally confessed after dropping a season-high tying 37 points for the second time in three games.
“For all those days in practice where him, Daequan (Cook) and Eric Maynor beat the first group, I wanted this game real bad.”