Post-Game Interviews: Coach Brooks, Westbrook, and KD
Gosh, was this a game to remember. Four separate physical altercations, lots of runs and draughts, mixed performances from Houston's superstars, and lots of old problems creeping up to the surface. A win is a win is a win though, and the Thunder will take it any way they can get it.
Anyway, let's address the elephant in the room. Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley are some of the most intense competitors on this planet. Even if they played in separate leagues, I don't think many fans would have difficulty identifying either of these players as guys who like to get as rowdy as possible. Thus, when you add in the fact that Beverley caused Westbrook to acquire a debilitating knee injury, you can see why tonight's matchup functioned as a thrilling Zero Hour between these two players.
From the outset, both of them were intent on scoring against each other, no matter what the cost. Westbrook was posting up Beverley far away from the basket, and Bev was playing his part of the annoying pest. On the other hand, Westbrook was making ridiculous defensive gambles, and Beverley did his best to take advantage whenever he could. Things didn't look like they'd get out of hand, but nobody knew that Patrick Beverley was going to replicate the move that caused Westbrook's injury. It was literally at the exact same spot where the previous incident had occurred. Westbrook was furious, but the two players were broken up before any serious blows could be dealt. Harden seemed to visibly apologize for the incident.
Westbrook and Beverley had a later, more minor clash when Pat attempted another steal against Russ at mid-court. Again, nothing came of the incident. But the laundry list of non-Basketball events doesn't stop there. Steven Adams was given a technical foul for rubbing his hand against James Harden's face. It's kind of funny, because the incident is reminiscent of the time that Metta World Peace elbowed James Harden a couple of years back. Harden wouldn't get out of either players' way, and bad things unfolded. The last incident of the night involved Kevin Durant and Francisco Garcia, with Durant retaliating when Garcia put on too much pressure. Durant got a technical foul, and not much more happened.
It's impossible to really draw much wisdom from these events, other than the fact that this rivalry is real. I have no doubt that Harden will continue to be friends with former teammates off the court, but both Garcia and Beverley now have a history of volatile behavior in these games. The fact that Houston has struggled against Oklahoma City this season only throws salt to their wounds.
Anyway, the actual game of basketball that we saw tonight was pretty entertaining in its' own right. On our end, the big story is the superb defensive performances of Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams. And when I say superb, I mean it. Steven Adams did a great job of knowing what Dwight Howard's go-to moves were, and sensing exactly where he was going to put the ball. Sometimes it would appear that Adams had lost Howard, but he was simply biding his time, preparing to counter-attack Howard's final move. Admittedly, Adams did suffer defensive defeat on a couple of occasions, but Serge Ibaka was more than willing to cover for him.
Speaking of Ibaka, his defensive role was much greater than that of Adams. He contained Dwight Howard with the skill of a veteran, but that was only the beginning of what he was able to do. Whenever Harden went to the rim, Ibaka seemed to know exactly what his plan was, successfully aborting a couple of sure baskets. Ibaka also did an awesome job of playing center in the second half, sensing when to stay home on Dwight Howard and when to help defending a drive. In transition, Ibaka did a good job of focusing on protecting the paint. About the only errors he made came earlier on, and were just a result of Terrence Jones having a significant speed advantage.
Fortunately, Terrence wasn't able to exploit that advantage on a regular basis, because Scott Brooks was smart and decided to stay small in the second half. The Thunder never really managed to do more than tread water when their hulking starting lineup was in the game, and Houston went on a 7-0 run when they put Chandler Parsons in at power forward in the third quarter. Had Brooks ever gone back to a bigger lineup, the team would have likely suffered.
Still, you have to wonder why Caron Butler was getting so many minutes. Personally, the most frustrating thing I find about Butler is how inconsistent he is. Sometimes, he's really focused on defense, bothering a dynamic scorer into a bad shot. Other times, especially off the ball, he's not focused. I mean, I've seen him give his man totally wide open threes or blow past him, simply because he couldn't be bothered to play a few steps closer. Offensively, he's not much more than a spot shooter at this point, and has an extremely limited ability to hit any tough shot inside the arc. I understand that Caron Butler is still getting back into shape, but I don't understand why Jeremy Lamb wasn't given more of a shake.
Luckily, Kevin Durant was willing to carry the team to victory. Again. Offensively, he pretty much did his standard Kevin Durant thing and hit every shot he took. KD was particularly good from three, hitting 5 of 8 and nailing a few shots five feet behind the line. He scored a lot of critical points in the third and fourth quarter, and always seemed to know the right way to keep the team afloat.
On Houston's end, they were getting excellent performances out of James Harden and Chandler Parsons. Harden seemed to find his groove after really struggling early on, and had no trouble getting past Derek Fisher for the little time that the two were matched up. Most of his work was done in transition, but I do give the Thunder credit for forcing him to settle for a few bad jumpers and keeping him off the line. Parsons did his usual schtick of beating his man off the perimeter, and managed to bankroll that gimmick for easy points in the second and third. Jeremy Lin showed flashes of greatness at times, but usually got caught trying to do too much.
All in all, tonight's matchup was a fun one to watch. The Thunder are going to have the Rockets' number as long as Harden and Howard are their main scorers, because the Thunder have defenders that are well-equipped to beat them. But the Rockets are a fast-paced team, and they do have some role players who are certainly capable of going off for career nights when Houston moves the ball well. Clutch City is also capable of creating some serious matchup problems for the Thunder, and are just one bench piece away (like a well-integrated Jordan Hamilton or a healthy Francisco Garcia) from competing with OKC on a nightly basis.
But really, I'm not worried about this team going into the playoffs. They haven't proven that they can beat the Thunder or the Clippers yet, and until they do so, they're going to have problems getting past the second round. Meanwhile, the Thunder are far from being their normal selves, but it was just nice to see them put together a cohesive defensive effort and stop the Rockets in the paint.
Now, the Thunder await the famous Lakes of Los Angeles, hoping to hastily remove the egg that Jodie Meeks has spread all over our collective faces.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, for knowing the answer to the life, universe, and everything.
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, whose presence down low was unmatched
Thunder Blunder: Jeremy Lamb, who's found himself eclipsed by Caron Butler in the rotation.
Thunder Plunderer: James Harden, who nearly had a triple-double despite unremarkable shooting numbers.
Next Game: Versus the Los Angeles Lakers, Thursday, March 13th, 8:30 PM Central Standard Time.