There's some serious basketball to analyze, but this game was so emotional that it's hard to think about. JAMES HARDEN GOT BLOCKED 6 TIMES, SON!
First of all, you had James Harden and Daequan Cook announced in the starting lineup (the latter due to a Chandler Parsons injury). Both were given huge cheers. Kelvin Sampson was back, wearing his traditional blue shirt and red tie. In the first half, James Harden was held to 3 points and no field goals on 0-7 shooting. He got outright blocked numerous times. During the second quarter, Harden and Thabeet got into a spat, resulting in Thabeet shoving the ref, getting ejected, and then coming back. (Not as epic as what went down in Boston tonight, but still.) The second half saw some success from Harden, but Daequan Cook surely reminded us how much we're going to miss him, dropping 18. The Rockets were pretty far behind though, and the game was over by the mid-fourth.
Even though Harden got a pretty large cheer when he entered the game, the crowd pretty clearly turned against him as the game wore on. There were several anti-Harden signs, none of which were shown on the big screen. Famed Thunder fan Thundor had his belly painted with Harden's face on a dollar bill. Of course, his eyes were Xed out. Many cheered when Harden was blocked, though the biggest cheer of the night probably came when Patrick Patterson missed a wide open dunk in the third.
But the most underrated thing about this game was the great basketball played early on. There were only two sets of free throws taken until 6:56 was left to go in the second quarter, and it was hella fun to watch. The pace was fast, both teams were hitting shots left and right, and we saw some epic blocks. The crowd was energized, there weren't many pauses in the action, and it was just....fun.
Houston was seeing some form of success here and there during this time, shooting really well from three and getting some boards. Unfortunately, Houston's run just wasn't sustainable. Patrick Patterson was having a nice game, but he was really just abusing the mismatch he'd get against a Thunder big man. Harden's game was way too predictable, and the Thunder would always have a help defender waiting for him in the lane. He wasn't able to work in his distribution really well, because the Thunder would leave the least threatening player open for the pass while he was trapped. And he was blocked 6 times. That's right, 6 times. He hit the bottom of the rim once as well. It wasn't just bad, it was abysmal. Oh, and Jeremy Lin was totally AWOL.
The biggest thing that killed Houston though was the total lack of bench play. Kelvin Sampson put in a unit of the bench plus Harden at the start of the second, but they didn't seem to know who to pass it to. They lost the ball twice, clanked two jumpers, and put the Rockets in a 9 point hole. As a result, the Rockets basically played the rest of the game with 6 men, subbing in only Marcus Morris, who was pretty much a detriment to the team himself.
In fact, the only guys who really helped out the Rockets tonight were Patrick Patterson, Omer Asik, and Daequan Cook. But like I said earlier, they were just taking advantage of the Thunder's defense, more than anything. Patterson and Asik would get screens and cut into the post for easy scores, and they were both very active on the boards. Cook just kept finding open shots while the Thunder were pressuring.
But I'm not really worried about they did, because it's all a side effect of shutting down the true stars in Jeremy Lin and James Harden. When Lin and Harden combine for 23 points, there's no way the Rockets are winning. They just don't have the help outside of those two guys. In the end, the Thunder were able to go on a series of runs in the fourth on the back of Kevin Durant, and pretty effectively shut the door on the Rockets.
On the Thunder's side of things, I'd like to give a huge shoutout to Serge Ibaka for his fantastic play tonight. He had 6 blocks, and 4 of the came in the first quarter. He was able to challenge Asik in the post and lock down the lane against Harden. Offensively, the Rockets refused to put a man on him outside of the paint, and he made the pay. On top of that, he showed great awareness in some of his passes. This is the same guy who I once thought had worse offensive skills and awareness than Kendrick Perkins. Oh, how times have changed. Wow. Whoever thought his contract was a bad deal has to be a serious beard lover.
Thabo Sefolosha had a solid night too. Normally I wouldn't mention it, but he did have more points than Harden for a good portion of this game. Durant and Westbrook did most of the defensive work on Harden, but still! Sefolosha for the win! Hell yeah!
With Durant and Ibaka exploding tonight, the performances of Westbrook and Kevin Martin were kinda ignored. Both of them kinda struggled from the floor and didn't get to the line much. If I was going to be picky, I'd say that Westbrook needs to tone down his transition jumpers and get set before he shoots, and that Martin kinda struggles against long, athletic guys. But really, both of them just had a few unlucky breaks in a fast-paced game with a lot of shooting and not a lot of fouling. The only thing I'd really harp on is Westbrooks turnovers, because four of them were him being silly and losing the ball while driving into the paint. He'd try to bully Jeremy Lin, who's 10 pounds heavier than he is. Comeon, Russ!
Anyway, great game, great win. Now, let's work on locking down our division.
Lineup of Death Watch:
Due to Thabeet's technical foul and Brooks' subsequent refusal to play him again until garbage time, the Lineup of Death was only seen once tonight, at the end of the first quarter. In this epic minute and a half of action, they treaded water. Nick Collison was their hero on offense again, taking advantage of the smaller Patrick Patterson. Defensively, they let Greg Smith score twice on tip-ins. Pretty much a big 'ol meh. That being said, I might have to get rid of this watch soon, because Brooks has done a good job of limiting their time on the floor.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, the infinitely useful scorer.
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, who shoots mid-range jumpers like it's 1979.
Thunder Blunder: Eric Maynor and his continually bad shooting.
Thunder Plunderer: Patrick Patterson, who'd great at finding offensive holes off the ball.
Next Game: Versus the Utah Jazz, Friday, November 30th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
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