Game 1 Leaves Houston Thunderstruck
Rockets take their lumps in playoff opener as OKC rolls to 120-91 win
OKLAHOMA CITY - There’s a reason this series was considered the Rockets’ baptism by fire. At various times, burns of varying degrees were always inevitable. Oklahoma City is that good, and Houston’s players are that green. Sunday’s playoff opener brought the heat in a big way. And after hanging around for most of the first half, the Rockets eventually melted amid the flames, falling 120-91 to a Thunder team that showed just how stacked, stoked and talented it truly is.
Houston was subjected to any number of postseason lessons Sunday night, as Oklahoma City led wire-to-wire while leaving only the narrowest of windows through which the Rockets could attempt to squirm their way out of the eventual romp. Houston’s execution was poor, its shooting worse and several of its playoff neophytes seemed to play with the hesitancy and jitters that so often afflict those dipping their toes in the postseason pool for the very first time.
‘’We bobbled some balls around the paint, they had a couple blocks and we had a couple point-blankers that we didn’t finish,” lamented Houston head coach Kevin McHale after the game. “I was interested to see how we were going to start. I was happy that we were able to gain our footing and tie it up in the second quarter but we didn’t have a whole lot of flow and you have to give Oklahoma City credit: they took us out of most of what we were trying to do.”
Indeed, the Rockets struggled offensively right from the opening tip, missing their first nine shots from the field en route to finishing the first quarter 5-20 from the floor. They were given a bit of a reprieve, however, as Oklahoma City’s shooting touch to start the game wasn’t exactly on point either. With both teams misfiring more often than not, Houston was able to hang around and even managed to tie things up midway through the second quarter on a triple from its perpetual sparkplug Patrick Beverley.
But the warning signs and red flags returned in full force when Omer Asik picked up his third foul of the game with 3:06 left in the half, forcing him to the bench to sit beside Chandler Parsons who had collected his third foul during the early moments of the period. The Thunder led 48-44 when Asik took his seat. Three minutes, three Houston turnovers and a typical Thunder blitz later, Oklahoma City was taking a 60-47 lead to halftime. The flames, seemingly nipping at Houston’s heels right from the game’s opening minutes, had officially been whipped into an inferno. The Rockets never recovered.
“We were all kind of tentative I think; a little half- or quarter-second of hesitation affected everything,” said Jeremy Lin, whose first career playoff game was one he’d like to forget after finishing 1-7 from the field with as many turnovers (four) as he had assists. “I’ve been through a lot of situations this season that have prepared me for this – tough games, tough stretches – and have often resulted or led to better performances or better stretches of basketball.
“I think our team is capable of so much more and I think everybody, starting with myself, is capable of a lot more. Hopefully we can come back here on Wednesday and make a series out of this.”
“Our defense was solid early. We had a bunch of shots on the basket with bobbles and blocks. They got up a little bit. We had some nerves; a little bit of a nervy start. Then we got back and it was 40-all when Carlos (Delfino) came back and had a lay-up blocked.”
“We just didn’t play very well. That’s the bottom line. They played well. Basically, we had some stuff early that I thought were good looks that we didn’t make and then we started to press a little bit.”
On the play from Serge Ibaka:
“Ibaka played well. Not just on making shots but also blocking shots. He made it tough around the rim. There were some shots that we just couldn’t put in and he made some shots. He hit a 3 from the left corner. He played well and Russell (Westbrook) got loose on us. At half he had 10 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.”
On adjusting to teams switching on defense:
“That has given us problems off and on all year. If we’re not back cutting and moving the ball against the switches and driving the switch quick and moving it, it’s giving us problems off and on all year, and they did a pretty good job of that.”
(experience make a big difference?) We bobbled some balls around the paint, they had a couple blocks and we had a couple point-blankers that we didn’t finish. There are a lot of guys out there playing in their first playoff game. I was interested to see how we were going to start. I was happy that we were able to gain our footing and tie it up in the second quarter but we didn’t have a whole lot of flow and you have to give Oklahoma City credit: they took us out of most of what we were trying to do.
(on Jeremy Lin) I think Jeremy has had a really good year. He’s been up and down, but we’ve been up and down. We’re one of the youngest teams in the league and you’re going to be up and down. He’s a young kid and this was his first playoff game. I think that sometimes the expectation levels are so high. He’ll be better the next game. He’s a tough kid and he’ll bounce back.
(on picking up his third foul) That was bad. There was nothing I could do besides sit there and watch so that was very frustrating and that kind of took me out of my game a little bit.
(looking at things you want to improve) I’m going to do that on the whole flight home. There are a lot of areas we need to get better at. This is just one game. I just have to learn from this and get better from this.
We got off to a shaky start and any time you get down that much it takes a lot of energy to get back in it to tie it up. Every mistake we made, they punished us for it. We missed a lot of open shots. With their defense and the way they’re switching so much, we’re going to have shots so there’s no way we shoot the bad or play that poorly again.
(being tentative a result of lack of experience?) We really don’t have an excuse anymore. We’ve already gotten it out. We played terrible all the way across the board, offensive and defensively. That one’s over with for us so we’re going to learn a lot and I’m personally going to learn a lot. Then it’s time to move on – another game on Wednesday.
(were you happy with your shots?) I literally thought every single one of my shots was going in. I’m being completely honest when I say I thought every single one was in. They were all just kind of back rim; I don’t know if I was a little too excited or whatever it might be but that’s not going to happen every game.
I don’t think anyone in (the locker room) is saying we played well, even for a stretch. I think we played bad all the way across the board and we were still within four. I think our team is capable of so much more and I think everybody, starting with myself, is capable of a lot more. Hopefully we can come back here on Wednesday and make a series out of this.
I’ve been through a lot of situations this season that have prepared me for this – tough games, tough stretches – and have often resulted or led to better performances or better stretches of basketball, and a lot of it is because you go through something like this. For us, we don’t have time to learn at this point being down 1-0, so we gotta go.
On feeling of playing OKC in the playoffs:
“There were definitely nerves. Not just for me, but also for my teammates that are going through their first playoff game on the road. It’s one game and it is best out of seven game series and we just have to get ready for Game Two.”
On what to change:
“We need to be more effective as a team, offensively and defensively. We played a little too timid and I think it is some guys first time out there. We just have to get better and be ready for Game Two.”
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER HEAD COACH SCOTT BROOKS:
“I thought our defense was outstanding throughout the game. Going into the game, this was a very explosive offensive team that can beat you in many different ways. But, I thought we locked in and all five guys participated. Our defensive energy was good from start to finish. That’s what we focus on all the time and that’s what we did tonight. I was happy for the guys. They did a good job of following the game plan, executing it, and playing as hard as they could possibly play.”
The offensive efficiency of Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook:
“Serge (Ibaka) was making shots and playing great defense. Serge has improved on guarding and shooting… He has to guard really a three-man or a two-man. He did a really good job tonight. Our ball movement was outstanding and the turnovers were reasonable and modest. Russell (Westbrook) had a Russell game. It’s nothing that we’re not surprised of. That’s how he plays. He fills up the stats sheet. He rebounds, he passes the ball, he blocks shots, and he can score. He has to do all of those things for us and he’s been doing it all year. KD (Durant) was as efficient as he has been all year, other than he’s missed some open threes that he would normally make.”
On what set the tone defensively:
“Well, there was a couple of things that we focus on and that is making sure everybody is in a defensive stance. We can’t have four guys playing and one guy watch. That’s why we’re a good team, and everybody has a responsibility on both sides of the ball. We don’t have one-way players. I thought our guys gave us great energy to start the game, and the second unit came in and did the same. It’s a team effort. We focus on all the team things that are important to us and the little things that are important to us like blocking out at the free throw line. I thought that was good tonight. Those are the little things that we consider add up to big things.”
On difference between first and second half in keeping Harden out of the lane:
“James, as we know, he’s a very good player. He’s going to give himself opportunities because of the skill set that he has. We want to make his catches very tough. There’s no secrets about it. You watch the way we play, we want to make everybody’s catch tough, and he’s one of their guys that puts them in the position to be a good team. We wanted to make his catches tough and form a wall. Our bigs did good job of helping out. It’s not a one-man defense; it’s all five guys have to stop the ball. Whether Lin, Harden, Parsons have the ball, we have to focus on doing the same thing.”
On the Thunder maintaining their composure when the Rockets made a run:
“Yeah man, I tried to be focused especially…I just wanted to be aggressive and the to do my best, and gain the confidence.”
On his offense game:
“It’s just confidence, I work every day and it’s just confidence. My teammates did a great job to find me when I was open.”
On the win tonight:
“I think we were just anxious to get out there. We just did a great job of covering the three-point line. We’ve been working in practice on our transition defense. We’ve been working on them going smaller and us having to switch out and guard smalls. I thought our defensive execution tonight was very good.”
On maintaining composure in the second quarter:
“I thought we just kept doing what we needed to be doing. I thought we picked up our intensity. I thought Russ (Westbrook) did a great job of just being everywhere tonight. He was on the ball, he was going and getting his hands on balls and reflecting balls. I thought it was a total team effort.”
“There’s nobody like this guy; the pressure he puts on the other point guards, how strong he is, how quick he is…He never stops. He’s always been fearless for us this whole season; we just need him to keep putting pressure on the defense.”
On the Thunder’s defense:
“It was all about giving it all in every possession. We spoke like this the last few days as a team and just help each other out on the defensive end…I like the way our coaches prepared us, so we need to see where we need to get better.”