Something Lost, Something Gained
Rockets fall 105-102 but new lineup provides spark that could pay big dividends
OKLAHOMA CITY - After suffering through a Game 1 rout at the hands of Oklahoma City, the Rockets knew they needed to increase the variance. They saw enough in their playoff opener to realize the key to competing with the Thunder did not lie within conventional methods, but rather in taking a more unorthodox approach. So Patrick Beverley was inserted into the starting lineup. Super small-ball was born. And with its inception a Houston team that once seemed overmatched suddenly blossomed into a squad far better suited to giving Oklahoma City all it could handle.
Right from the start Wednesday night, the Rockets showed a vastly improved ability to attack the Thunder’s switch-everything defense. The ball moved significantly better with an additional playmaker on the floor and Houston’s spacing stretched Oklahoma City’s scheme in uncomfortable ways. On the other end of the court, meanwhile, Beverley’s insertion also helped to tilt the matchup game in a positive direction for the Rockets. His dogged, refusal-to-back-down defense on Russell Westbrook allowed Houston to disrupt the perpetually simmering engine powering OKC’s offensive machine, and his remarkable rebounding prowess keyed the Rockets’ surprising domination of the boards. When Houston put the finishing touches on a stunning 21-2 fourth quarter run to transform a 15-point deficit into a four-point lead, nearly all the requisite ingredients for an extraordinary reversal of fortune and riveting upset seemed present and accounted for.
There was one essential part of that recipe, however, that was rather conspicuous by its absence. The Rockets continued to struggle to knock down their three-point attempts. The quality looks were there, but Houston’s long-range bombers missed the mark more often than not, finishing the game 10-35 (28.6 percent) from beyond the arc. With every errant three-point shot, opportunity slipped through their fingertips little by little. Those shots held the key to the highest variance plays of all and the Rockets came into the game knowing they needed them to drop. When they didn’t, Houston was left to lament a valiant, game and gritty effort that ultimately ended in a bitter, gut-wrenching 105-102 defeat.
“This was one we could have gotten on their home court,” said Chandler Parsons immediately after the game. “We fought hard and we played really well. A lot of things didn’t go our way but I think it gives us confidence going forward that we can definitely beat these guys and we’re definitely not scared of them. We figured out a lot that worked on offense and defensively, just different matchups and stuff, so I think it’s frustrating and it hurts really bad right now but we’ve got to take some positives out of it – it’s a long series.”
Indeed, the Rockets return to Houston with renewed hope and belief borne of a bold game plan and inspired performances that put them in position to beat one of the best teams in the league on their home floor. James Harden exploded for 36 points and 11 rebounds, taking advantage of the increased space and improved movement to get into the lane and earn himself an evening-long parade to the free throw line. Chandler Parsons reprised his role as a top flight Durant defender, limiting the Thunder star to a 10-25 night from the field, meaning KD has still yet to hit the 50 percent shooting mark through seven career games against Houston when Parsons is in the starting lineup. Omer Asik returned to his glass-cleaning ways by corralling a game-high 14 rebounds. And Greg Smith bounced back from a miserable Game 1 as well to collect four offensive rebounds himself, one of which he immediately turned into a vicious poster slam in the face of Serge Ibaka.
But it was Beverley who was truly the team’s talisman Wednesday night, brilliant as he was on both ends of the floor and in all facets of the game. He played 41 minutes of indomitable basketball, all of which was on full display every time he went toe-to-toe with Westbrook.
“It’s part of playoff basketball,” he said of the antagonistic bent pervasive within his matchup with the Thunder’s ornery All-Star point guard. “Everyone wants to go out there and win. Anyone who knows me knows my character and that I’m not going to back down from anyone, whether it’s Russell Westbrook or anybody else – that’s the mentality I have and that’s the mentality that I’m going to keep.
“We’re frustrated with this loss but at the same time we’re glad to come home and play in front of our crowd. We can get this thing rolling.”
Even amid another frustrating loss, the Rockets gave themselves reason to believe they had found something that can spell future success in this series. The next step: making sure they find their shooting stroke as well.
And 1s: Jeremy Lin was unable to play during the second half of Wednesday’s game after suffering a muscle contusion in his right chest late in the second quarter following a collision with Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha. Lin returned to the court to start the third quarter in an effort to play through the pain, but was forced to immediately return to the locker room before play had even resumed when the spasms in his chest left him unable to so much as run.
“I thought it was going to be OK,” he said. “Then I came back in for halftime, put some heat on there and tried to run and I couldn’t really run because of the spasms. So they’re saying the X-rays are negative so I’ll just come in tomorrow and get treatment on it.
“This is easily the most frustrating thing that’s happened this entire season. I’ve been healthy the whole season and then the second half of a playoff game on the road when we’re playing well – it was just (frustrating).
“We’re supposed to just see what happens tomorrow. We’ll see how it feels. As long as the (spasms) stops, I’m good.”
Our team is a young team and we’re not a perfect team by any stretch of the imagination but they’ll fight. They’re a bunch of scrappers and they’ll go out there and fight you for it. I figured our team would play well today because that’s just who they are.
(on playing zone) It gets jammed up for us, offensively we struggled a bit so I just thought about zone and going small, but you got to rebound and so I thought James and Patrick had a tremendous game. James had nine defensive rebounds and Patrick had seven so that was huge for us.
(On starting Patrick Beverley) He’s a hard working, really nice kid. December he was in St. Petersburg, Russia and now he’s starting in a playoff game – that’s a pretty good story. He’s a great kid, a great young man. He’s a tough, little guy from Chicago and he’ll fight you for it.
(on outrebounding the Thunder) We just kept fighting and playing. Jeremy got hurt but I thought Patrick Beverley did a great job out there for us. We rebounded well. We went small and James had 11 rebounds and Patrick had 12, Omer had 14 and we just outrebounded them.
We had a few opportunities to lead in that game in the last three or four minutes, to capitalize on a couple buckets. We didn’t. I think I looked past it, and I think Chandler was a little bit too far. I think he had a shot blocked by Kevin (Durant) and they came down and scored after that. It cost us the game. Most importantly, when we were down 15 we could have given up the game and said let’s go to Game 3. But we fell back into the lead. We definitely have some confidence going in to Game 3 and going back home.
(on Durant in the last 2 minutes) Kevin’s a tremendous scorer. We just tried to play good defense on him and we tried to make him make some tough passes and make somebody else beat us. Thabo made a big three and Serge came back in and made a big jump shot as well … tough two players and tough two buckets that gave them the lead and pushed them way ahead.
It’s frustrating but at the same time we know that we can do something. We know that we were there, we were close and we’re going to build from that coming back to Houston in the next game.
The coaching staff told me a couple days ago that I was starting so I was excited of course. He told me that when I get in the game to play my game and I tried to do that. It started off with defense and I was able to hit some shots.
(feel you had to pick up slack with Lin out?) Of course. He’s one of the leaders of this team. I knew I had to step up.
(key to game 3?) Excited. We’re frustrated with this loss but at the same time we’re glad to come home and play in front of our crowd. We can get this thing rolling.
(on the chippiness with Westbrook) It’s part of playoff basketball. Everyone wants to go out there and win. Anyone who knows me knows my character and that I’m not going to back down from anyone, whether it’s Russell Westbrook or anybody else – that’s the mentality I have and that’s the mentality that I’m going to keep.
(on getting under his skin): It’s not about that. At the end of the day he’s an All-Star. He’s been playing great so those type of players, you just continue doing what you’re doing. I don’t think he’s bothered about me getting under his skin or none of that, I just thought it was good basketball and I’m going to carry the same mentality into the next game.
(on his rebounding ability) We understand that someone is going to have to come up with some rebounds with James on Ibaka. It’s their job to push them out and our job to scoop up some rebounds and we did that tonight to get us started on the break.
(on his injury) I don’t know who I ran into – I hit somebody – and then thought it was going to be OK. Then I came back in for halftime, put some heat on there and tried to run and I couldn’t really run because of the spasms. So they’re saying the X-rays are negative so I’ll just come in tomorrow and get treatment on it.
This is easily the most frustrating thing that’s happened this entire season. I’ve been healthy the whole season and then the second half of a playoff game on the road when we’re playing well – it was just (frustrating).
It was fine as I was sitting here at halftime but then I tried to run out of the tunnel and I couldn’t really run. Whatever I did it would just go crazy.
We’re supposed to just see what happens tomorrow. We’ll see how it feels. As long as the stuff stops spasming, I’m good.
This was one we could have gotten on their home court. We fought hard and we played really well. A lot of things didn’t go our way but I think it gives us confidence going forward that we can definitely beat these guys and we’re definitely not scared of them. We figured out a lot that worked on offense and defensively, just different matchups and stuff, so I think it’s frustrating and it hurts really bad right now but we’ve got to take some positives out of it – it’s a long series.
(Beverley) has been providing us energy all season long and all series long so we need him in there to be a pest on defense and that helps our team.
(on the Perkins screen on the Sefolosha three) It’s clearly obvious what Perkins did to me: he grabbed me with two hands and I couldn’t go out there and contest Sefolosha – that’s part of the game.
(impact of the small lineup) I think it was more effective defensively. Durant had a hot start but if you look at their numbers he was 10-25, Westbrook was 10-26 – we just missed a lot of shots, me and James missed a lot of chippies and a lot of threes. But I think our matchups worked much better, our spacing on offense was much better and we pretty much did whatever we wanted to on offense but stuff didn’t go our way.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER HEAD COACH SCOTT BROOKS
“Well that was a hard fought game. Both teams really laid it on the line and went out there and competed on every possession and that is what you want from a playoff atmosphere and we got it. We knew they were going to come in and play much better and I think that was their major adjustment is that they played much better tonight. They were aggressive getting to the paint. Overall we had some poor execution in their zone but other than that we still scored 27 points in that fourth quarter in their zone. It was just the 5 or 6 turnovers that we had we can correct. Other than that it was a hard fought game on both teams.”
Thoughts on Rockets run:
“Just stay composed. We have been on both sides of those runs and the only way you can get through it is by sticking together. I thought our guys did, we stuck together. We missed some open shots also but I have to give the guys credit for sticking together and continue to trust the pass. Kevin (Durant) got a nice three, Thabo (Sefolosha) hit a big three, and Serge (Ibaka) hit a jump shot but it is the trust that makes us a good team on both ends of the floor. We had opportunities to when they were up four with that big run. They are a good team, a very good team and they have good players not just James (Harden). They have multiple players that can play and I knew going into this game, they are a prideful organization, their coach is very prideful and they have good players. I knew we had to play a good game to beat them.”
“It doesn’t add up other than it did add up. They got the rebounds. That is something we have talked about all year. We have to do a much better job; we can’t be the bigger team and be the team that gives up 19 rebounds offensively. That gives them too many opportunities, that is 27-second chance points. This is a very good offensive team… You give a good offensive team a second possession; you are just playing with fire. That is unacceptable and is something we need to clean up on going into next game.”
Rebound performance and Serge Ibaka Performance:
“Serge has improved every year like a lot of our guys. We take pride in developing players and we felt that all of them have developed over the years, but Serge is one of our best rebounders and the 11 rebounds were important. We gave up too many rebounds but give them credit. They were aggressive and sometimes when you take long shots, you get long rebounds. A lot of those were a bad bounce for us but those are excuses that we don’t use. We still have to come up with those rebounds. I thought Serge made a big shot and that is what he does. He is a great shot maker.”
On late game situations:
“I think all season long we’ve been doing a great job of closing out big games and trying to prepare ourselves for moments like this. I thought tonight we all stuck together. They made a run and made shots, but I thought everybody had a big role towards the end of the game, and we came out with the win.”
On mental strength as a team for defensive stops and lead changes:
“I mean, it’s tough, especially when you have a lead and you’re at home, they have the ball and they can either go up or tie a game. I think as a team we locked in, during that time out I believe we told ourselves we weren’t giving up any 3’s. Two wouldn’t hurt us, so that’s what we did.”
On how the team mentally stayed determined despite 22 lead changes:
“I think the best thing to do is to try and just be in the moment and to continue to play and try to be locked in what is going on in the floor each time. Human nature makes that difficult sometimes, but that is the best way to approach it.”
On how the team was clutch in not allowing a three pointer by the Rockets in the final stretch:
“I think we locked in, focus was better late in the game. We did not have as many breakdowns, we had a game plan but its tough when their players are good. They are going to spread us out and kick it to their shooters. We will try to better, we will try to be sharper and the more times that guard them then obviously the better.”
On Kevin Durant’s playmaking ability late in the game:
“He has been doing that all year, he has been making the right plays with his size he has that ability and the attention that he draws. He is going to be in situations where he is going to need to make plays for other guys and he has been doing it all year. He did it enough for us tonight that we were able to get a win tonight.”