The Thunder began pulling away from the Rockets in the second quarter and never looked back. James Harden had probably his best game of the season scoring 23 points on 8-11 shooting. The Thunder took care of business tonight and set itself up very well for the next two games on Saturday and Sunday. Not one Thunder player logged more than 28 minutes of game action.
Harden was super efficient tonight. He only missed 3 shots all night. He went 8-11 from the field, including 2-2 from three-point range, and 5-5 from the charity stripe. Harden and Collison had their two-man game working as well as I have ever seen it. It was so entertaining to watch. If Harden’s man tried to slip under Collison’s screen, Harden drilled a three. If his man tried to fight over the top of the screen, Harden drove to the basket and either scored or drew a foul. Just when the defender thought he had the play figured out, Harden cut backdoor for an easy layup. Those two have logged a ton of minutes together over the past two seasons and it is definitely paying off.
I must not forget about the franchise player. Durant had a magnificent game as well. He was also incredibly efficient with a game-high 26 points on 10-16 shooting. He scored more than half of his points (14) in the third quarter. Unlike the Portland game, he was not settling for isolation jumpers. He attacked the basket and created many open shots for his teammates. When Durant gets the ball in space, he is a dangerous player. His ability to find open teammates off the dribble has drastically improved. Durant looked comfortable, in control and confident. It’s amazing what a couple days of rest and some practice will do for a player.
Not to be left out, Russell Westbrook played a solid game as well. I felt like he let the game come to him. He wasn’t forcing the issue. Westbrook finished with five assists, three turnovers and two steals. Ever since the RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL! chant during the Dallas game last Tuesday, Westbrook has been shooting his jumper with more confidence. This was evident tonight as he went 6-12 from the field. Good job, Thunder fans!
Post Game Grades
Defend the Inside: B+
The only reason I hesitate to give the Thunder an A in this category is because the Rockets scored 44 points in the paint. That is more points than the Thunder gave up to both Dallas and Portland. However, Ibaka and Perkins did a fantastic job blocking shots tonight. The box score only credits them with four blocks total between them, but they were in the paint altering shots all night.
Free Throw Shooting: B
Collison ruined the team average tonight shooting 1-4 from the free throw line. Also, it is probably way too early to freak out, but what’s wrong with Durant’s free throw shooting? He is shooting uncharacteristically poorly from the stripe this season, which continued tonight missing two of his eight attempts. I hope it’s not affecting his confidence level because the team needs his automatic stroke in crunch time. Overall, the team shot 76% from the line, which is a decent team percentage. Free throws have been and will continue to be the bread and butter of this team.
Three Point Shooting: A
You know I have to give the team an A when Ibaka hits a three pointer and when Reggie Jackson nails his first career triple. As I already mentioned, Harden was money from three-point range. The team shoots from behind the arc best when the shots are not forced, but rather in the rhythm of the game. I thought most all the threes were in rhythm tonight, which is why the Thunder shot 43% as a team. The Thunder will win a bunch of games if they shoot that percentage on a nightly basis.
Thoughts on the Game
- My main thoughts for tonight were the improvements the team made from its last two losses. I wrote on Wednesday about the three things that were to blame for the back-to-back losses 1) too much isolation 2) dead legs and 3) defensive rebounding.
- I thought the Thunder did a much better job moving the ball and not settling for isolation plays late in the shot clock. I credit the Thunder coaching staff for that adjustment. I also credit Durant and Westbrook who looked like they were putting out extra effort to involve teammates.
- The two days of rest obviously was just what the doctor ordered. Thabo and Cook still looked like they were recovering from the flu, but for the most part, everyone looked fresh and high energy. The blowout tonight was very key to finishing out the three games in three nights strongly.
- Finally, the defensive rebounding improved this game. The Thunder looked like it was extending extra effort to put a body on their man when a shot went up. The Thunder actually got out rebounded 40-39, but the team held their own, for the most part. That’s all that needs to happen to have success. Again, I credit the coaching staff and the players for recognizing the deficiency and making adjustments.
Next up: Saturday Night in Houston. Kind of a weird 66-game scheduling glitch, but the Thunder have the Rockets back-to-back. Don’t expect another cake walk. The Rockets are a different team at home, not to mention the historic struggles the Thunder has had in Houston the past several years.