The Oklahoma City Thunder dominated the Houston Rockets in Houston, winning 124-94. Once again the Thunder caught the Rockets in a state of weariness, as Houston was finishing up a 4-games-in-five-nights stretch.
The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook, who took advantage of his match-up against the slower Jeremy Lin. Westbrook finished with 28 points on 11-22 shooting, and added in 8 rebounds and 8 assists while collecting 3 steals. Kevin Durant contributed 26 points of his own, including 4-9 shooting from 3-point range. Durant got off to a slow start but took over in the pivotal 2nd quarter, and his buzzer beater at the end of the 2nd pushed the Thunder lead to 18 points.
The Rockets were led by Marcus Morris, who scored a career high 24 points, including 4-6 from 3-point range. Former Thunder James Harden scored 25 points, but once again OKC focused its defensive effort in stopping Harden and forced him into a poor 6-17 shooting night.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Aside from Houston's heavy work load this past week, after watching a second consecutive Thunder blowout I am starting to think that this may simply be a bad matchup for the Rockets. They are a guard-oriented offense that generates a lot of their points on the perimeter and off of high pick and rolls, but that kind of offense plays right into the Thunder's hands. Previously the Rockets had low-post threat Luis Scola that took just enough of OKC's attention off the perimeter where the Rockets did surprisingly well against the more talented Thunder team. Now however, all of their offense requires either Jeremy Lin or James Harden to hit their jump shots and get to the rim, and OKC knows how to deny both.
While the 1st half was a bit touch and go as the Thunder worked to get their offense in gear, once they solved their recurring offensive issues the game was quickly put out of reach.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
The Thunder bided their time during the first 18 minutes trying to work their offense back into a good groove. Russell Westbrook seems to think he has a personal mandate to destroy Lin whenever he can, and Westbrook got into the lane at will, netting 7 of his 11 made shots at the rim. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant struggled early on, but once he found the range he was able to exploit the smaller Rockets team.
The key stretch occurred at the end of the 2nd quarter, where the Thunder were clinging to a 2 point lead following a Lin and-1. OKC cranked up their perimeter defensive pressure and closed out the final 4 minutes of the half by going on a 16-0 run and caused the Rockets to turn the ball over 5 times. Houston could only muster contested perimeter jump shots during that span. On the other end of the court, Durant scored 11 of his team's final 16 points, including a deep 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded. This 4 minutes stretch was the perfect formula for how a contending team needs to deal with a good but lesser team. OKC waited for the opportunity to pounce, and when it was time both the offense and defense were ready to throw the hammer down. Everything after this 4 minute stretch was merely window dressing.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
After a strong Rockets 1st quarter, the Thunder defense did an outstanding job defending against the fast-paced Houston attack. OKC held the Rockets to 39.8% shooting from the floor, 8-30 from 3-point range, and stole the ball from Houston 16 times (3 apiece from Durant, Westbrook, Sefolosha, and Collison). Harden, Lin, and Chandler Parsons combined to shoot a woeful 2-15 from 3-point range, and their inability to capitalize when they found seams in the Thunder's exterior D eventually doomed them.
The Thunder once again did a dominant job on the glass, out-rebounding the Rockets 53-36, including 12-6 on the offensive glass. It is certainly a strange sight to see the Thunder consistently beating teams on the boards, especially on the offensive glass, but it is becoming the norm. Serge Ibaka in particular has shown tremendous growth in grabbing offensive rebounds, as he grabbed 4 tonight after snagging 8 in OKC's win over the Mavericks. It is especially encouraging to see how Ibaka and the Thunder are remaining focused on the boards even when their offensive number isn't getting called.
This rebounding area in particular is probably the biggest difference from a year ago vs the Rockets. In the past, the Rockets would manhandle the Thunder on the offensive glass, which made for a number of closely contested affairs despite the fact that OKC had the two best players on the court in Durant and Westbrook. By growing in this particular area, the Thunder are doing a better job putting away lesser teams, and this trend continued tonight.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
After a shaky 3 game stretch where the Thunder offense had temporarily lost its way, a round against the porous Rockets defense was a perfect hair of the dog. As written in the introduction, the Thunder match up extremely well against Houston and it only took a 4 minute stretch to put the game away. There is a lesson there about what the Thunder should be able to do against weaker teams.
Going forward, the Thunder must continue to control the defensive boards as they did tonight, so even if a good perimeter team struggles, there will not be cheap points to be had that can sink an otherwise good Thunder performance.
|Final - 12.29.2012||1||2||3||4||Total|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||31||37||28||28||124|
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 28 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison, 12 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
Thunder Blunder: none
Thunder Plunderer: Marcus Morris, 24 points, 6 rebounds
Next game: vs the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 31 at 7PM CDT
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