In a critical and satisfying late season game, the Oklahoma City Thunder edged themselves over the rival Houston Rockets, 111-107. Predictably, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were the centerpieces of the Thunder's late game offense. Westbrook had 13 points in the fourth quarter, while Durant had 9. Westbrook's points were the usual stuff, as he used his explosiveness to get to the rim and get mid-range shots. The Rockets tried to double Westbrook around screens and hedge him at the rim, but often Westbrook was just too fast. Here's an example:
Durant did his usual thing as well, scoring on a couple of late possessions with his signature post up moves.
There were a few late cameos from Thunder teammates as well. With the Rockets down 2 with 24 seconds to go, they were looking to foul. KD had just missed 1 of 2 free throws, and apparently didn't want to go back to the line. KD's solution was to lob the ball the length of the court, before he could be fouled. Thankfully, Roberson dunked it this time. Let's not forget how a KD lob ended badly against the Warriors.... Also, Payne was able to nail a fourth quarter floater, and Kanter had four early fourth quarter points. Really though, the night belonged to Westbrook and KD.
How to Defend James Harden....kinda
It was an interesting day for the Thunder when it came to defending James Harden tonight. The Thunder doubled Harden around every screen, and gave Harden a combination of Roberson, Foye, and KD on defense. The result was Harden shooting a relatively poor 7 of 17 from the field. But Harden also had a career high 16 assists, along with an eye-popping four steals. The Thunder dared Harden to trust his teammates, and he did. Here's an example of Harden's assist heavy game tonight:
Harden's teammates were relatively reliable. Howard scored 16 points on 7 of 8 shots at the rim. But Howard got virtually no offensive possessions where he created his own shot, and the Rockets had a bit of difficulty getting him the ball sometimes. Here's an example of Harden setting Howard up, though:
Patrick Beverley was able to shoot 6 of 12, mostly in transition or when Russell Westbrook fell asleep on defense. Even Donatas Motiejunas was a solid weapon, scoring over Serge Ibaka using the pick and roll as well as outside shots.
But there were two players that generally hurt the Rocket offense: Trevor Ariza and Michael Beasley. Ariza finished the night 5 of 18 from the floor, and was just jacking up threes at certain points of the game. In some ways, it was just an off game for him, as he airballed a three at one point. But it was also the Thunder realizing that they needed to close out on Houston's best three point shooter. Michael Beasley was also arguably a net negative for the Rockets. Beasley was 5 of 12 overall, which is decent. But packed in there are four missed pointless, tough mid-range jumpers with a man in his face. Also, Beasley had three turnovers. If Beasley could tone his offensive game down a bit, he could arguably be more effective for this Houston team.
- Serge Ibaka was a pretty meh 6 of 15 from the floor. Ibaka was 1 of 3 from three, 3 of 5 from mid-range, and 2 of 5 in the paint. All of Ibaka's jumpers were open, and all of his paint plays were offensive rebounds and pick and roll finishes.
- Andre Roberson had a score in transition, along with a signature Westbrook oop. Missed corner three. Harden was able to nail a three in the face of Roberson on a critical late game play, but at least Dre didn't foul.
- Anthony Morrow, in place of the injured Kyle Singler, shot 3 of 6 tonight. 2 of 4 on kick threes from Westbrook, a made step in jumper, and a missed transition layup. Morrow's defense wasn't noticeably bad, and he was a decent cover on Beverley. Good foot speed.
- Enes Kanter was 3 of 4 for 10 points and 10 rebounds. Aside from an impressive fadeaway in the second quarter, Kanter did his usual pick and roll finishes. Howard played a good number of minutes though, and Kanter didn't get too many opportunities when he was on with the bench.
- Cameron Payne was 1 of 5 from three, and hit a floater. Ideally, he takes floaters and not threes. But Payne's threes were fine and mostly open.
- Steven Adams didn't have his best game. 8 Points, all near the rim or at the line. Adams only logged 23 minutes, and wasn't exactly the most intimidating double-team presence on the perimeter.
- Randy Foye went 0-5, and did an acceptable job guarding James Harden. Four missed corner threes, along with an end of shot clock iso. Meh.
- Dion Waiters had a really interesting game. 3 of 6 from three, 1 of 1 from mid-range, and 2 of 2 in the paint. The stepback worked on Harden, and catch and shoot threes actually went in. In the fourth, Waiters had a block on a Michael Beasley postup, and stole a Howard post up pass. But Waiters didn't take a single fourth quarter shot. Oh well. Anyway, check out what he's capable of.
- It felt like offensive rebounds were a problem for both teams tonight. 13 each, 26 total.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, never intimidated by Dwight Howard
Thunder Down Under: Dion Waiters, finally showing up in a big game!
Thunder Blunder: Randy Foye, 0fer
Thunder Plunderer: James Harden, career high 16 assists.
Next Game: Versus the Utah Jazz, Thursday, March 24th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!