Thunder make it five straight and survive the Rockets, 111-107
Michael Beasley hit a runner as the shot clock expired, and the Rockets closed the third out up 79-78 on the Thunder headed to the fourth.
Then, after a brief review, it was determined Beasley’s shot came after the buzzer, waving it off, and giving the Thunder a 78-77 lead going into the final 12 minutes.
Obviously that’s mostly tongue-in-cheek, but it is funny how two little points can change your mental perspective on it. It’s a one-point game either way, but with the storyline of blown fourth quarter leads following the Thunder around the last couple weeks, you couldn’t help but wonder.
But the Thunder are starting to finally look different. The defensive intensity cranked up, with turnovers leading to explosive plays. The offensive execution was solid, sparked by Russell Westbrook who scored 14 of his 21 in the fourth. You know what it looked like? Just a standard ol’ Thunder win that was a routine part of the last six seasons. Enough stops, enough scores and some fantastic plays along the way.
One of which being Westbrook’s transition explosion which keyed the turnaround. That’s the thing this team has always possessed and still keeps them so dangerous: They can make anything happen, at any time. Either it’s a Kevin Durant dagger, or a Westbrook eruption, they can find a gear that few other teams have.
Tonight, though, what separated them was surprisingly strong bench play, namely from Dion Waiters. After getting through a difficult few days, which showed to mentally weigh on him on the floor, Waiters played well, scoring 17 points and making the game’s biggest defensive play, jumping the lob attempt for Dwight Howard on Houston’s last possession. It was of course Westbrook and Durant who carried the load, but with Waiters, Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter and a little Anthony Morrow, there was just enough elsewhere.
So, five in a row, with some impressive basketball within that. This wasn’t the most dominant, overwhelming game. There was certainly some meat left on the bone. But the Thunder are back to making the winning plays they had been missing early in the month.
- So. Many. 3s. The Thunder took 24 — 24! — in the first half. 35 total for the game. And they only made eight.
- Now, that said, the idea of, “You’ve shot and missed lots of 3s, so therefore stop shooting them,” doesn’t really hold weight for me. An early clock forced one? Sure, no doubt, don’t take that one. But what do you want, Randy Foye turning down a wide open corner 3 because he’s thinking, “Oh, well, we’ve already taken 34 and haven’t made a lot, so I should probably drive this.” That’s not the way it works.
- One thing on Waiters: With Serge Ibaka singing super loud in the showers and yelling all sorts of stuff, Waiters had a little laugh to himself at his locker. Made me happy.
- Random: Four of the five starters were minuses tonight. All bench players were at least a +9. I think that’s called the Beasley Effect.
- Andre Roberson did a spectacular job on Harden, especially in the second half. And got robbed on some rough calls as well.
- Kudos to Waiters for it as well. He seems to have a great feel for defending Harden’s iso style.
- The play out of the timeout that set Adams up for a dunk to tie the game late in the fourth was a fantastic set, and well executed. Durant talked postgame about his “presence” and that’s exactly what that was. The Rockets were terrified of him, and he used that to free Adams.
- Donovan talked about Westbrook’s 3-point attempts, and noted a lot of them are late clock heaves where he’s handed a ticking time bomb. But Donovan did note that a lot of them are Westbrook firing away with four or five seconds on the clock. Donovan phrased it as “maybe I need to help him,” which is his way to say, “he needs to stop doing that.”
- Durant threw his touchdown pass again late in the game. This time though, it barely got over the hands of Dwight Howard to end in an Andre Roberson dunk. I mean, barely.
- Michael Beasley gets those shots up.
- I think Durant is over-passing just a wee bit. Not that it’s a bad thing, but one play stuck out to me: Fourth quarter, with the clock under 10, he skipped it to the weakside corner to a semi-open Roberson. Roberson swung to Foye who had to take a jumper off the dribble as the clock expired. Sure, good to move the ball and not just isolate late clock. But also not good to throw it to Roberson who can do little to nothing in that situation other than shoot or immediately pass to someone else.
- Westbrook’s offensive tell: When he leaves his mouth open, he’s about to try and throw a no-look bullet pass to someone.
- That sequence in the third where Westbrook took a horrible 1-on-4 transition jumper, and somehow the Thunder got mismatched in transition and left Montiejunas wide open for 3. I don’t know how it happened. Like, it was mystifying.
- Apparently ref Mark Ayotte forgot J.B. Bickerstaff’s name because was yelling, “My name is J.B.!” at him in the first quarter. Ayotte said my bad.
- I hear from a lot of opposing fanbases throughout games. I’m not sure there’s any more sensitive than Rockets’ fans.
- I actually had someone complain to me that Westbrook passing too much. Oh man. It’s come full circle. Next thing you know, someone is going to say he’s playing too much defense.
- By the way: If you think Westbrook is stealing rebounds from his bigs for stats, it’s actually by design to try and kickstart transition. Honestly, I’d love to see OKC’s offensive rating in possessions after Westbrook grabs a board. My guess is it’s pretty good.
- The Rockets are that rare visitor that get three players boo’d during intros. You can probably figure out who they are.
Next up: Home against the Jazz on Thursday