Durant, Thunder Too Much For Road-Weary Rockets
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - During a day filled with a deluge of emotion, travel and a host of other trying circumstances, the Rockets had already managed to overcome a great deal by the time they arrived in Oklahoma City Wednesday afternoon. What they could not do, however, was overcome a key injury and the onslaught unleashed by Kevin Durant and his Thunder teammates later that evening.
With Durant’s game-high 37 points leading the way, Oklahoma City simply proved too explosive for a road-weary Rockets team to handle, as the Thunder brought Houston’s three-game winning streak to an abrupt end with a 120-98 decision – the Rockets’ biggest margin of defeat this season.
Though Houston actually had the Thunder within shouting distance early in the fourth quarter, it’s hard to say the end result was at all surprising given the unique road the Rockets had traveled the previous 24 hours. Immediately following Houston’s win over Toronto Tuesday night, the team flew to Minneapolis, arriving around 2 AM, ensuring Rockets players, coaches and staff had the opportunity to stand by their grieving head coach Kevin McHale during the memorial Wednesday morning for his late daughter, Alexandra ‘Sasha’ McHale. Shortly after the service, the club then made the trek south to Oklahoma City, heading straight to the arena upon arrival. By mid-afternoon, the emotional, physical and mental toll taken was already unmistakable.
Perhaps most damaging to Houston’s chances, however, was news that Chandler Parsons was to miss the game due to a very sore right shoulder sustained the night before against the Raptors. Defending Durant, the NBA’s three-time defending scoring champion, is an unenviable task at the best of times. Doing so without the services of the team’s best wing defender made it effectively impossible. The Thunder’s 24-year-old superstar was dynamite from start to finish, scoring in his surgically efficient and inimitable style, effortlessly draining threes, getting into the lane and repeatedly rising up over helpless defenders.
Still, Houston found a way to hang around until the final frame thanks in large part to the efforts of its starting frontcourt of Omer Asik and Patrick Patterson. The former produced his now familiar double-double stat line that included 17 points and 12 rebounds while Patterson built upon his recent stretch of torrid shooting by notching a career-high 27 points (and two more made 3s, bringing his average from beyond the arc this season a robust 37 percent).
What Houston lacked, however, was much in the way of offensive punch from its usually reliable backcourt. James Harden didn’t have anything close to the sort of OKC reunion he would have hoped for, finishing 3-16 from the field, while Jeremy Lin quietly collected just six points. On a night when Durant and Serge Ibaka combined for 60 points between them – and when the Thunder bench outscored Houston’s reserves 33-13 – the Rockets simply didn’t have the firepower necessary to keep pace.
That having been said, the Rockets also had very little difficulty putting Wednesday’s defeat in the proper perspective. During a day in which basketball was far, far down the list of life’s priorities, there seemed little reason to spend an inordinate amount of time fussing and fretting over a poor game played against an elite team amid the most unique and trying of circumstances.
“Even with this loss today, we’re still positive,” said Patrick Patterson. “We fought hard out there against a team that was in the NBA Finals. We played without some X-factors who might have made a difference for us. We know it’s a long haul. We’re not holding our heads down or thinking of this as a negative. We’re just pushing forward and concentrating on Utah.”
And 1s: After the game, Chandler Parsons revealed that he sustained a bad bone bruise at the hands of Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan Tuesday night. He said he did not believe the injury to be serious, but he will be undergoing a precautionary MRI on the shoulder Thursday afternoon.
I was proud of our guys. Early in the fourth quarter, it was an 11-point game, Daequan had a three from the right slot to cut it to eight. But this is a good team, man. They’ve got weapons. Kevin Martin is a great fit for this team because Durant and Westbrook can get into the paint; sucks in the defense and then they can kick it out to a guy who can make 3s like that. They’re good. They’ve got perfect symmetry here with great fans and a great team that makes it a tough place to play. We’ve had a tough 24 hours, but give Oklahoma City the credit.
I think James was probably pressing a little bit. I’m not sure that he would admit it. I’ve watched him play every game thus far this year and he’s been playing really, really well lately but I thought tonight he was pushing a little bit.
Our inside guys I thought played well. I thought Omer and Patrick, both those guys really battled. But Oklahoma City presents so many problems for you defensively with their length and athleticism, so you’ve got to be able to make the right pass and then that next pass has got to make it a play, and that’s where we miss Chandler Parsons and Carlos Delfino – those are our two wings. We’ve got a big game Saturday against Utah and then we’ve got the Lakers in our building on Tuesday – we’ve got to get those guys healthy.
We didn’t play well tonight. I thought we hung in there about as long as we could, and then Durant hit a couple contested 3s, Kevin (Martin) hit a couple contested 3s, Ibaka – their main guys played well.
We’re pretty thin right now; we don’t have a lot of depth. Chandler has been arguably our first- or second-best player. James is obviously our best player, but Chandler has been right there with him. He had 31 the other night against New York and played great against Chicago and Toronto during that winning streak. We need him on the floor for a lot of reasons. Last year when we beat Oklahoma City twice Chandler was the guy that matched up with Durant. He’s 6-9, he’s long, he our best perimeter defender. Without him out there, it’s tough for those other guys.
If we had two days off and plenty of rest, this is still always a tough place to win.
It feels good to compete against these guys and finally get it over with. Now, I can continue on with the season.
(on how far in advance he’s been thinking about this game)
With this team, I’m a leader. I have to get them to focus every single day on getting better, whether it’s practice or our next opponent, so I wasn’t realy focused on just this game.
(On knowing the Thunder’s capabilities)
Every day at practice we would go to war. I know what each and every one of those guys do and do well, and vice versa. It’s just, I couldn’t guard all five of them.
(on the relief of this game being over)
Yes, now we have a day off tomorrow to rest, relax our bodies and get ready for Utah.
Mentally I don’t think we were fatigued. Even though we had a long day, we’re not going to make excuses for it. We all knew the consequences of what could have happened because of us flying to Minnesota; getting in late, waking up early – we all knew the routine and what could happen. But we also don’t want to make excuses for ourselves and I thought we fought extremely well. But we turned the ball over too many times, gave up too many transition points, didn’t get enough half-court stops. Offensively, we moved the ball extremely well, we just weren’t finishing well around the rim.
We’re all positive. With this loss today, we’re still positive. We fought hard out there against a team that was in the NBA Finals. We played without some X-factors who might have made a difference for us. We know it’s a long haul. We’re not holding our heads down or thinking of this as a negative. We’re just pushing forward and concentrating on Utah.
(on his recent scoring stretch)
The biggest difference is I’m healthy. My body feels a lot different than it has in the past. Offensively, I’m starting to be more aggressive, attacking the rim, looking for my shot more and just trying to get open. Defense, I haven’t been as good as I was previously, so that needs to be corrected fast, especially my man-to-man defense. I thought if I had done a better job on Serge tonight we probably would have been in a better position to win.
(did you come into season thinking 3-point shooting would be part of your arsenal?)
Honestly, no. I worked on it all summer long. Coach McHale said I could work on that to help spread the floor, but me shooting it every game? No, I didn’t see that. I maybe saw myself shooting it every now and then but, with the offense that we have, it’s definitely a good opportunity for me.
OKLAHOMA CITY HEAD COACH SCOTT BROOKS:
“First, I just want to start off by saying that I have a lot of respect for the Houston Rockets organization. What they went through today, words can’t do it much justice. I feel for Kevin (McHale) and his family during this difficult time and it was amazing and classy move by their organization and their players to be there. Coach needs a lot of support. With that being said, we came out and played a good basketball game against a team that played last night and had a tough travel. I thought our aggression was really good. I thought we were solid. Defensively, we showed up throughout the game. I thought we were playing solid on both ends of the floor.”
“Our defense has been pretty good all year. That’s what we talk about and we stress day in and day out. It was good. We had a stretch there in that third quarter that we were exchanging baskets but I will say this, the Rockets are as tough as a team that you can guard. They spread the floor, they get smaller matchups on the floor. They throw a bunch of different pick-and-rolls at you, they keep three point shooters on the floor and they have a big-time roller on the floor in Asik. For the most part, we did a pretty job of guarding them.”
On guarding James Harden tonight:
“Well James had an off night, that’s the bottom line. He missed some shots that he would have made. He did get to the basket and did get to the free throw line but he did have an off night. I wouldn’t say we did anything special, we just executed our defensive game plan of being aggressive on the basketball. Pick-and-roll is one of the hardest things to guard in this league. You can’t guard it with one man, you can’t guard it with two. You need all five guys to participate and I thought that we did that tonight. He saw bodies, he saw hands and he saw a lot of activity. That’s what we want all of our opponents to see. I thought our bigs did an excellent job of taking their perimeter (players) out of the game. We gave up some rolls and some shots to Patterson but I thought Asik did a good job of rolling. I thought defensively we were solid.”
On Serge Ibaka:
“He’s a tremendous shooter. He’s one of our best shooters and I’ve said that many times over and over. Now he’s stepping out and hitting threes, not at the numbers that we would want but he had a great game. His stat line was very good offensively. Defensively he had six blocks and that’s what we need him to do. That’s what is going to keep pushing our team in the right direction; everybody stepping up and playing well for us.”
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER FORWARD KEVIN DURANT:
On the defense against Harden and Lin:
“Well, we talked about it and those guy’s offense … they create for so many people and they create for themselves. They don’t stay in the paint. They wreak havoc. You know, Jeremy Lin, is a really great driver, and James, of course he can do it all. We just wanted to get the ball out of their hands and make other guys shoot the bulk of the shots … we just wanted to take the ball out of their hands.”
On the game-play in the 4th quarter:
“Coach was telling me to be aggressive. At the start of the fourth he wanted me to go in and push us over the top a little bit. I took that message as be aggressive, try to get the ball, and try to score, and make the defense play me. I think we did a really good job of turning up our intensity on the defensive end there in the fourth quarter.”
On playing against Harden:
“It was crazy seeing him before the game and seeing him in a different uniform was a little different. We moved past it though. We were happy to see him and we’re glad he is doing well out there in Houston. It was a good win, and it was good to see him. Good luck to him the rest of the way.”
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER FORWARD SERGE IBAKA:
On defending the pick and roll of their big men tonight:
“We tried to be aggressive and make him pass the ball. He’s so talented and had a lot of opportunities to score baskets so we just tried to make him pass the ball and force another guy to make the play for them.”