NEXT GAME: Wednesday, April 24
7-for-15 Shooting numbers from the field for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who combined for 43 points, 14 assists and 14 rebounds
8 Number of players for the Thunder who scored eight-or-more points tonight
9 The number of steals and the number of blocks by the Thunder on the night
17 Points for Serge Ibaka on 7-for-11 shooting, in addition to seven rebounds and three blocks
21-12 The Thunder's advantage in points off turnovers for the evening
28 Assists for the Thunder, including ten from Russell Westbrook and four each from Reggie Jackson and Nick Collison
53.0-36.3 The difference in field goal percentage for the Thunder and the Rockets
April 21st, 2013
The Thunder talked about defense being key all week in practice, and on Sunday night Head Coach Scott Brooks' club stood tall and delivered.
By beating the Houston Rockets 120-91 in Game One of the Western Conference quarterfinals, the Thunder started its first Playoff series off on the right foot. Houston, which came in as the NBA's highest scoring team, shot only 36.3 percent from the field while the Thunder made nine blocks and nine steals to score 21 points off 15 Rockets turnovers. The 29-point victory tied a Thunder Playoff record for margin of victory, and by out-scoring Houston by six-or-more in each quarter, Brooks' squad used a consistent effort all night to keep its opponent in check.
"I thought our defense was outstanding throughout the game," Brooks said. "We locked in, all five guys participated. Our defensive energy was good from start to finish. That's what we focus on all of the time."
The tone was set early by the Thunder, as it took a commanding 13-2 lead and didn't allow Houston to make a field goal until the 5:27 mark in the first quarter. From there on out the Thunder forced Houston into contested three-pointers, of which the Rockets made only 8-of-36. After building a 13-point first quarter lead, the Rockets battled back to tie the game at 40-40 with 5:23 left in the first half. The Thunder, however, used a 14-1 run late in the second quarter to break this one open.
Despite being a young squad, players like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison have ample Playoff experience to draw upon. That's why when the Rockets made their push the Thunder played with composure, then capitalized on its opportunity to make its own run.
"We just kept doing what we needed to do," Perkins said. "I thought we picked up our intensity. I thought Russ did a great job of just being everywhere tonight… We just made a total team effort."
Throughout the night, even when Houston put the pressure on in the second quarter, the Thunder stayed true to its identity and principles. Throughout each Playoff game and series there will be adversity, moments when shots don't fall and times when the ball bounces in the opponent's favor. The key for the Thunder will be to do what it did tonight, which is trust in themselves and the coaching staff to work through each obstacle while playing with high energy and effort.
"Just sticking to our game plan," Westbrook said. "We did a good job as a team of just sticking to it, whatever our coaches asked us to do. I think we did a good job of doing that for 48 minutes tonight."
The steadiness with which the Thunder played tonight was pervasive throughout the lineup. Westbrook, at the helm of the Thunder's offense while also spearheading the defense, did a masterful job of getting others involved. His 19-point, 10-assist, eight rebound near-triple-double was sparked by his aggressive play and it allowed his teammates to be confident in their own games.
Eight different Thunder players scored eight-or-more points and the team racked up 28 assists. The team stayed disciplined, and it was able to take advantage once it stopped the Houston charge, taking complete control of the game heading into halftime and then coming out of the break.
"Tonight we did a really good job of moving the ball," Durant said. "The ball was going through the rim for us and we were able to get back and get our defense set. You have to give credit to everybody for just helping each other out."
Leading by 13 at halftime, the Thunder didn't let it get interesting again, relying once again upon its defense. Houston never made the game a single digit affair after the Thunder's decisive run and it was mostly because Brooks' squad made the Rockets see a wall of defenders each time down the court. Coming into this game, transition defense was top of mind for the Thunder, and by out-scoring Houston in points in the paint, fast break points and points off turnovers, it was clear Brooks' club succeeded in that area of focus. It took a total team effort on Sunday night, as the Thunder took a 1-0 series lead thanks to communication, intensity and mental toughness on the defensive end.
"There are a couple of things that we focus on, and that is making sure everybody is in a defensive stance," Brooks said. "That's why we're a good team. Everybody has a responsibility on both sides of the ball. We don't have one way players. I thought our guys gave great energy to start the game and our second unit came in and did the same."
The Thunder led 46-44 with just 3:36 remaining in the second quarter, but used a 14-1 burst to break the game open, removing a chance of a Rockets comeback. Serge Ibaka started things off with a strong offensive rebound and put-back, then Kendrick Perkins slammed home a dunk off a great outlet pass from Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha knocked down two free throws, Kevin Durant hit Perkins for a hook shot and Westbrook made a finger roll in the lane. To cap the run, a Westbrook steal turned into a Sefolosha dunk, then Durant made it 60-45 with 4.8 seconds remaining on a mid-range jumper. During the run, the Rockets missed three shots and turned the ball over four times.
"Just keeping our composure at all times," Sefolosha said. "The confidence that we have, we know when we're playing well. We know when we're not playing well. I think we adjusted at the right time in the second quarter, making a push before halftime."
Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Sefolosha keeps his head up and tracks the ball on a back-door pass to make a steal then pitch ahead for a transition opportunity. Ibaka tips out a defensive rebound to Sefolosha that immediately ignites a fast break. Perkins stays his ground in post defense to force a travel. Perfect recognition of spacing by Westbrook to find Sefolosha in the corner for three on a post-up. Perkins hustles to save a defensive rebound back in bounds. Swift back-door cut by Martin to receive a pass from Collison for a dunk. Sefolosha battles and works for an entire possession to force Houston into an offensive foul.
Plays the box score won't show, second half:
Perkins swats away the ball in post defense, then Durant intercepts an attempted alley-oop to start a fast break for OKC. Perkins patiently waits for the right opportunity to screen for Durant to free him up for a three-pointer. Durant slides over in transition to draw a charge. Westbrook hustles along the baseline and it leads to a Perkins to Ibaka alley-oop. Martin, Durant and Ibaka all take turns protecting the paint by blocking shots on the same possession.
"I think the focus was great. The way we helped one another and talked on the defensive end, that was key for us. We have to keep that up and watch some tape and see what we can even do better." – Guard Thabo Sefolosha