"Let's Go Home!"
Rockets rain threes upon Thunder, bring series back to Houston with 107-100 win
OKLAHOMA CITY - Francisco Garcia strolled toward Kevin McHale near the end of Houston’s 107-100 win over Oklahoma City with a look on his face that was equal parts swag and elation. Earlier Wednesday morning, the 32-year-old swingman had confided in his coach how much fun he was having during this particular playoff run. McHale’s response: Just make sure it doesn’t come to an end. So Garcia did his part. So, too, did his similarly inspired teammates. The Rockets hit the halfway mile marker on the way to making history. And as the final seconds ticked off the clock, Garcia high-fived his coach and delivered one final message for the night:
“Let’s go home!”
Given the extraordinary events of the evening and the euphoria it evoked in the Rockets’ post-game locker room, it’s quite likely Garcia and company did not even require a plane to make the trek back to Houston. The Rockets entered into the fuming, frothing madhouse that doubles as the Thunder’s home gym and emerged with a high that could have carried them across the country. Now they return home with a second straight win beneath their belt, firm in the knowledge that what once seemed impossible is well within reach. Much work remains to be done of course. But make no mistake: the Rockets believe.
“We never give up,” said Omer Asik after finishing with 21 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. “We always played good defense, hustling and never give up. When we get down we always come back. That’s who we are now.”
Who they are now is a team that is absolutely fearless. Patrick Beverley made that abundantly clear right from the start when he shook off the chorus of boos cascading from the rafters and went straight to the bucket to score the first two points of the game. If anything, playing the role of public enemy No. 1 seemed to suit the 24-year-old rookie. Beverley never wavered or wilted in the white-hot glare of the spotlight, but instead seemed to feed off the energy and add it to his already inexhaustible motor. Houston’s point guard racked up 14 points and eight rebounds while demonstrating a knack for sabotaging any accumulating Thunder momentum by scoring big buckets right when the Rockets needed them.
“He’s fearless,” said Chandler Parsons. “He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around. He doesn’t care about anything people say about him. He knows what he has to do and he’s all about our team and what he has to do for us to win. He’s been unbelievable all series and he really did a good job tonight.”
The same could certainly be said of nearly every Houston player that stepped on the court Wednesday night. Garcia was once more a revelation on both ends of the floor, draining five threes while doing his best to slow the unstoppable Kevin Durant defensively. Aaron Brooks scored 10 points while giving his club 19 quality minutes that were desperately needed given the injuries to Jeremy Lin (chest contusion) and Carlos Delfino, who aggravated a left foot injury and was forced to leave the game for good in the second quarter. And what can be said of James Harden, who bounced back from one of the worst games of his career and an ill-timed bout of the flu to record one of his best as he hit his first seven three-pointers of the evening on his way to scoring a team-high 31 points?
Then there is Asik, no stranger to pain and discomfort himself of late due to a bad back that has dogged him the last few days. Yet the 7-foot center loomed as large as ever when Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks resorted to his hack-a-Turk strategy in the fourth quarter, sending Asik to the line a whopping 12 times in a row during one particularly laborious two-minute stretch. Asik gave Brooks eight emphatic reasons to reconsider employing that plan again in the future. The 26-year-old Turkish native finished 13-18 from the line overall, capping a night that saw him score 21 points and haul in 11 rebounds while making sure the Rockets returned home with a massive win and an immense amount of momentum.
“I’ve said it all year long that the beauty of this group of young men is they fight.” Said McHale. “We’ve had bad games this year but we’ve turned around and had good games behind it. The guys are battlers and, for me, that’s a huge part of this league. You just have to go out there and you have to fight every single night."
Their backs against the ropes, the Rockets have summoned the strength to throw a couple haymakers in Oklahoma City's direction. The shots they've landed have at least been enough to stagger the Thunder and make them appear vulnerable. Now round six awaits. Both teams are battered and bruised. But beaten up though they may be, the Rockets have proven this much: They are not afraid. They're coming home. And they still believe.
On Houston’s three-point shooting:
“We were due for a couple 40 percent shooting nights from the three-point line. We’ve had them on and off all year. I’d say the last two or three weeks we’ve been shooting them too early. I give my guys a lot of freedom to shoot them, as you can see we shot 35 of them and they were good shots for us. Francisco’s [Garcia] right corner three was huge; late in that game. And James [Harden] was fantastic. James didn’t feel good at all, all day today. But, I knew he’d play. He didn’t have the type of game he wanted to have in Game 4 and we were able to win. He came out and just an unbelievably efficient game 10-for-16 from the field and 7-for-9 from three which is unreal.”
I’ve said it all year long that the beauty of this group of young men is they fight. We’ve had bad games this year but we’ve turned around and had good games behind it. The guys are battlers and, for me, that’s a huge part of this league. You just have to go out there and you have to fight every single night. I’m really proud of the guys. We’ve got a lot of young kids.
Francisco said to me today after shootaround: ‘Man, I like these playoffs. They’re a lot of fun.’ And I said, ‘Cisco, let’s keep it going then and make sure they don’t end tonight.
On rebounding with a small lineup:
“When your guards in [Patrick] Beverly and James [Harden] go out and get eight rebounds a piece, that’s 16 rebounds from your backcourt. O [Omar Asik] had 11 but you look at them and those three had 27 between those three guys, and that’s going to give you a lot of play on the boards. Patrick’s a tremendous rebounder. James went in and really fought hard against [Serge] Ibaka when he had that match-up.”
On what part of Russell Westbrook’s game the Thunder are missing:
“They’ll miss him everywhere, how could they not? He’s one of the top players in the league. They probably miss him in the locker room, miss him in shootaround, miss him on the bus, miss him on the plane, miss him on offense, miss him on defense…did I miss anything? I’m sure they miss him. I’m really sorry and honestly, I say, ‘Sorry Westbrook.’ I’m really sorry that he got hurt, I really am. I hate to see that happen to anybody.”
On staying on top of the win in the fourth quarter:
“We stayed confident. We just wanted to continue to get stops, we had a little trouble with the Reggie Jackson high pick and roll because we were denying Durant and didn’t want to leave Fisher in the corner but we stayed together and we never broke up, we were never chirping at each other or arguing with each other, we stuck together and got a huge win.”
Like I’ve been saying all series long: We know we can beat them. We just have to go out there and do it. It’s going to be unbelievable Friday night.
(how much momentum was gained from this win?)
It’s huge. But we’ve always believed. That’s on you guys; you guys were the ones who never believed. We believed as soon as we got matched up with them. We have to stay hungry, stick to the game plan. They’re still a great team. We just have to continue to get better and get those big stops and step into shots with confidence and knock them down.
(on Patrick Beverley)
He’s fearless. He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around. He doesn’t care about anything people say about him. He knows what he has to do and he’s all about our team and what he has to do for us to win. He’s been unbelievable all series and he really did a good job tonight.
(confident when taking those fourth quarter free throws?)
I just didn’t think too much. Because we had the lead I was relaxed. I just shoot the ball. I make some, I miss some.
I’m really happy because this game was really important.
We never give up. We always played good defense, hustling and never give up. When we get down we always come back. That’s who we are now.
On if the Thunder crowd booing fuels his energetic style of play:
“Yeah, I try to stay under control at the same time. I’m very energetic and I don’t want that to be a negative with my game getting in early foul trouble. I try to stay consistent with what I do. I try to stay with the game plan, stick with the team details, and try to fight out a win today.”
On playing tonight after being sick all day:
“I just tried to go out and there and give it all I had. I did not participate in shootaround this morning. I didn’t have any energy and just slept until game time. I just tried to go out there and give it all I had. It was win or go home. I got some shots to fall but I just tried to not think about it.”
On how they exploit the Thunder defense:
“We’ve got to move the ball. That’s the only way we can be affective against this team. They’re so long and crafty. They’ve got shot blockers; even their wings are very long. We have to move the ball, be in attack mode, and be ready to shoot. Its 48 minutes. We can’t have spurts where we’re stagnant because that’s when they go on their runs. Tonight we put a 48 minute game together.”
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER COACH SCOTT BROOKS
“Well that wasn’t the way we wanted to play tonight to start the game but I thought you have to give them credit. They came out and played lights out. They shot the ball so well. Some were contested, some were not contested. We didn’t match-up in transition but we have to do a better job. We gave up two 30-point quarters and one 37-point quarter and that is unacceptable. That is two games in a row that we have to fix that problem but thing that I love about guys is that we stay together and we have to figure out ways each days to get better and we will. We still have an opportunity to go down there and figure out things that we can do better. One of the things that we have to do better is matching up in transition. This is a three point shooting team that shot the ball extremely well. Francisco started the game making threes and James finished the game making threes. We have to make sure that we do a better job contesting the three point shooters.”
“We can’t dwell on it. The good thing about it is we are up 3-2. They won the last two and we won the first three. Now it is time that we have to step up and play much better. They are playing well right now. They are a confident group and they should be. They are playing well, they are spacing the floor, they are moving the basketball and they hit fourteen threes tonight. That is hard to do when no one is guarding you. Let alone in a playoff game. You have to give them credit. They stepped up and made them. We have to help them miss. They are a great shooting team. They play four guards on the floor and they help spread you out. They can get hot and we have to make sure that is not allowed next game.”
On offensive end
“We didn’t make shots…That’s a bad combination when they are hitting threes and we’re not hitting threes. I think we were 1 for 12 in the first half. We had a higher percentage in the second half but it is a bad combination when one team hits threes and the other doesn’t. It was one of the things that we were good at, we are right at 40 percent as a team and on defense it is all about matching up in transition against quicker teams. We have to make sure we do that with sprint backs and matching up and communicate on the defensive end. We have a day to think about it and we will come back the next night and hopefully we can be better defensively.”
On mentality after losing two games
“We have to forget about this one. We have a quick turnaround and have to get ready for the next game. They played well; I have to give them credit. Of course it is tough not having our starting point guard but we cannot make an excuse. We have Reggie Jackson and he is playing well. All together, we have to do a better job and bring more energy on the defensive end. We have to do a better job on defense from top to bottom.”
On what game came down to
“They got hot early. They were making three pointers, making those first seven-eight three pointers. They got them going. The basket seemed wider every minute. We have to do a better job. Sometimes we played great defense and they just made tough shots. We cannot give them confidence to start the game. I have to be better as a leader and lead my guys and get us to play harder every minute. We have a tough game in Houston and we are looking forward to it.”
On moving forward to Game 6:
“It is going to be big, realizing what we did wrong and could have done better. I think on the defensive end that we were not trading enough and playing one on one…everybody has got to do their job.”
On shots falling tonight for Houston:
“Yeah they were ready and their shots were falling tonight. They were shooting well outside, and we have to do a better job of stopping it one on one.”
On moving on to Game Six:
“We just need to be focused right now and try to just forget about tonight and think about the next game.”