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Thunder vs Rockets, game 2 final score: OKC falters in 4th, falls 115-111

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What worked early in the game was forgotten late.

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

box score

The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Houston Rockets in game 2, 115-111. In a follow-up to the Thunder’s disheartening 30 point loss in game 1, OKC looked to claim a small stake in this series by performing remarkably better on the road. However, despite a strong start that gave them a lead heading into the 4th, the 6th seeded team could not maintain their focus and fell apart when it mattered most.

As it is the season of Westbrook, the game began and ended with Russell. He finished the night with a staggeringly distressed triple-double of 51-13-10 and 4 steals, but took 43 shots to get there. And here is the most telling set of statistics. Through 3 quarters, which the Thunder maintained a 3 point advantage heading into the 4th, Westbrook had 36 points on 13-25 shooting with 11 assists. It was the same approach that he and OKC have used all year when playing well, and they entered the 4th with a chance to steal home court advantage.

But then the 4th arrived, and everything went south. Westbrook scored 15 points in the quarter, but off of 4-18 shooting, including 1-7 from 3-point range, nearly all of them poor, contested shots. Meanwhile, Westbrook’s counterpart James Harden finished with a solid stat line of 35-8-4 against 7 turnovers, but what was most notable was what he didn’t do - Harden didn’t overshoot the ball. His shot was off for most of the night, but Harden didn’t force the action and only took 17 shots. Thunder fans will likely argue over his 20 free throw attempts, but at the end of the day, he didn’t shoot his team out of the game.

It is a pity too, because there was so much to like about how OKC played game 2, as the youngsters are learning on the fly what it means to play playoff basketball. They played aggressively, with purpose, knowing exactly what they were trying to do, and they were repeatedly able to choke off the Rockets offensive options to give themselves a chance of winning.

Hope dwindles, but there is still some left. 4th quarter corrections can right the ship in a hurry, but Westbrook and OKC best not miss the boat again when the game is on the line.

Random notes

  • Andre Roberson is still the Thunder’s MVP through 2 games. He followed up game 1 with a 12-8 to go with 2 steals and 3 blocks, plus another masterful defensive display on how to slow down an elite offensive player in Harden. Late in the game, with OKC on life support, Robes did the Braavosi water dance with Harden and seemed to give Harden the lane intentionally, and then proceeded to close on Harden effortlessly and swatted Harden’s shot from behind. It was a magnificent moment amidst a meltdown.
  • If you want to look at one significant microcosm of the 4th quarter struggles, note that at 3:15, it was the moment of truth. Patrick Beverley had just picked up his 5th foul, and Harden had picked up his own 5th 2 minutes earlier. It was at this moment when Billy Donovan, Westbrook, and everybody else had to redirect their game plan to accomplish one thing - to knock out one or both of those guys by drawing their 6th foul. And yet...and yet. Not a single play set was run from there on out to do such a thing. Winning in the playoffs is hard enough, but if you can’t discern how to take advantage of a glaring opportunity, especially when the game was in the balance (tie game after Beverley’s 5th) and even an overtime period quite possible, then you’ve misplayed your favorable hand.
  • Steven Adams - better, but still not nearly enough.
  • The Thunder offense is allowing Houston’s bigs to sit back and just wait on the drive to the rim, and as a result the Thunder missed numerous contested opportunities to score in the paint. Somehow Clint Capela has morphed into Serge Ibaka, and I feel like it is by OKC’s hand that is happening. There are ways to pull big men away from the rim and force them to cover open territory. Houston did it all game long in game 1; can OKC not figure out a way to do something similar?
  • Probably not when Victor Oladipo’s jump shot is somewhere hovering over the Gulf of Mexico.

There’s a winning game plan out there, and OKC had it tonight. It is a shame that they stuck it in their back pocket when it was needed most.

Game 3: Friday, April 21st at 8PM CST