Nick Gallo recaps the win over Houston on Christmas: “Houston is notorious for their ability to bait opponents into fouls, and the Thunder knows it needs to be more disciplined and aware moving forward. The result of putting their hands in the cookie jar was 31 free throw attempts for Houston, and a plus-7 advantage for the Rockets in makes. Despite that, the Thunder’s defense was still sensational, as it has been all season long. Against Houston’s high-powered offense, Oklahoma City held Houston to just 43.2 percent shooting, including a pedestrian 12-for-37 (32.4 percent) mark from the three-point line and just 44 points on 22-for-40 shooting in the paint to go with 14 turnovers.
Royce Young on the Thunder looking like things have been figured out: “There has been sort of an unspoken timetable on when they’d actually need to show signs of figuring it out — Christmas. That would be almost half a season for the Thunder’s three stars to integrate and initiate, and if it wasn’t starting to work by then, it might just not work at all. Through their stumbling, there has been various points when fans and media have wondered if the panic button was allowed to be pressed, but the push back was often, “Let’s see what it looks like by Christmas.”
Rob Mahoney on OKC building a contender profile one defensive rotation at a time: “Whenever a play seemed to be teetering on the edge, Andre Roberson or Paul George would be there to steady it. Steven Adams seemed forever caught between multiple responsibilities, but balanced them masterfully. No defense can close out perfectly against the Rockets for an entire game, but the Thunder—bigs and smalls alike—kept it reasonable and forced specialists to put the ball on the floor. It is a credit to players like Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson that they were able to make good on that premise, slicing into layups and assists. Still it was the right schematic call, and it was right of OKC to play Houston to its weaknesses.”
Jason Owen (Yahoo) on the Thunder putting the NBA on notice: “George and Anthony had big nights as well. George had 24 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Anthony logged 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting. But this was clearly Westbrook’s team. He ran the offense and had almost twice as many shots (25) as George and Anthony combined (27). George and Anthony have been alpha dogs their entire careers. As the Thunder continue to evolve, more deference to the reigning MVP seems to be the key to their success. If they can continue to find this kind of chemistry, the Western Conference may have another competitor near the top.”
Paolo Ugetti (Ringer) recaps the NBA Christmas day slate: “Russell Westbrook started a feeble 2-for-12 from the field (taking six shots before making a single one), then hit 10 of his following 12. Carmelo Anthony (who took off his shooting sleeve for the first time since infant Melo was moved to the nursery) had his most accurate performance this season, making two-thirds of his 12 shots from the field. Paul George went 8-for-15 overall. That’s 75 combined points from the Thunder trio. That’s the productivity Sam Presti traded for.”
Matt Ellentuck (SB Nation) on the Thunder offense clicking: “The Thunder’s win over the Rockets saw their Big 3 shoot an efficient 28-of-51 (55 percent) from the field and turn the ball over a combined 10 times. Russell Westbrook scored 31 points on 24 shots while Anthony and George had 44 points on 27 shots. Steven Adams, (who makes a Big 3.5), had 15 points on nine shots. That’s beginning to feel like what the blueprint of a successful Thunder offensive night looks like on the stat sheet.”
Brett Dawson on Billy Dononvan’s trust in Andre Roberson: “He didn’t play the entire fourth quarter, but after the 2-minute mark, when teams are penalized possession for intentionally fouling, Roberson was back on the court and making an impact, blocking a late 3-pointer by James Harden and helping force a Houston turnover in the closing seconds. Donovan said that while 50 percent from the foul line is “not great,” he has confidence in Roberson.”
The Thunder moved up to eighth on ESPN’s power rankings: “During OKC’s Christmas Day win, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony combined for 75 points while making 54.9 percent of their field goal attempts. According to Elias, in no other game this season have Westbrook, George and Anthony combined to score as many points while also hitting as high a percentage of their shots.”
Around the League: LeBron & KD disagree on a late no-call in yesterday’s Warriors/Cavs…. The Rockets still have confidence after losing three straight…. The Jazz like you’ve never seen them…. Players to target at the deadline.