The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Houston Rockets on the road, 118-116. Dropping their 3rd road game in a row, the story followed a familiar script. The Thunder were in it until nearly the very end, but costly mistakes, a few bad calls, and far too many long Russell Westbrook jumpers sealed their fate. The positive takeaway is that once again they were within a possession of beating the 3rd place Rockets, but the negative is that they have fallen into a very dangerous routine that looks an awful lot like yesteryear, except now Westbrook is the primary/only offensive threat in 4th quarters.
Once again Westbrook carried a majority of the offensive burden, even if he didn’t really need to for most of the time. He finished with 49 points on 16-34 shooting, 8-15(!) from 3-point range, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists on the night. But yet again, with the game right in their grasp, Westbrook eschewed far too many offensive set plays to settle for contested jump shots that could not have been easier for the Rockets defense to defend. The result is a 3-game losing streak, a bad, bad way to start off a month that ends with a murderer’s row of opponents, and a team that is once again veering in the wrong direction - the risky place of pretty good, but not consistently good enough, where it always feels like one more made shot is all that is needed to right the ship.
What was notable about this game, aside from Westbrook’s usage, is that OKC’s best stretch, after a hot start, was in the beginning of the 4th quarter. They entered the final frame trailing by 14 after a stretch that I remarked to RK Anthony was “a negative reinforcement of all the bad things.” But that bench, on the shoulders of Enes Kanter, started to chip away at the lead. Which reminds me. Here is the basic premise of catching teams from behind in the NBA. You ready?
Play some defense.
That’s it. That’s really it. If you can do that, and not be horribly impatient on offense, you can come from behind against a good team, on the road, with your best player sitting on the bench. By the time Westbrook returned the deficit was still 8, but the Rockets had scored only 9 points in the first 5 minutes of the 4th. After giving up 97 points through 3 quarters, OKC was getting stops, and it gave them a chance. Sadly, that chance was wasted. Again.
- Big props to Kanter, who played hard on both ends of the court and finally contributed to getting some stops in the 4th, all the while getting some clutch buckets to keep them in the game.
- Steven Adams...remember that guy? The guy who has been shooting over 60% since December and in the past 3 games shot a combined 21-26 from the floor? The guy who was going up against a 6’9” 34-year old center? That guy got 6 shots tonight. Billy D, pick up your phone. You have some extremely irate Kiwis on line 2.
- Andre Roberson once again put on a clinic defensively against James Harden, holding him to 6-16 from the floor, which means that in 3 games, Harden is now a combined 16-55 from the floor while being primarily guarded by Robes. Oh, and did you catch Andre’s close-out on Harden’s final 3-point attempt? That was insane.
- OKC’s penultimate shot attempt - yeah, that was about what we expected. Houston’s final play set to win the game? Now that was a good play set.
- Eric Gordon off the bench is dynamite for the Rockets, even if he takes too many 3’s (and who doesn’t in Houston?)
- This game gave me flashbacks to Westbrook’s performance vs the Pacers in 2015. Remember that one? With #35 out, Russ scored 54 points on 43 shots and lost. It is games like that one...and this one...that should serve as a reminder off all the crucial things required that go into beating good teams. Or in short-hand, remember the rule of 5.
- My heart wanted Blanton’s but my brain said “no, this loss requires Fighting Cock.”