NEXT GAME: Saturday, April 27
5 Players who scored in double figures for the Thunder on the night
6 Blocked shots for Serge Ibaka in addition to a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double
6-for-14 Three-point shooting numbers for Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha, who tallied 21 total points combined
9 Assists for Kevin Durant, while only committing one turnover
21-14 The amount by which the Thunder outscored the Rockets in transition
22 Lead changes in the game, which also featured 13 ties
58 Combined points for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who each had 29 points
April 24th, 2013
There is only one way the Thunder wins and only one way it loses – together.
Wednesday night both options were a possibility as the Thunder built a 15-point fourth quarter lead then fell behind by four with only 3:27 remaining. By playing as one and problem-solving as a unit in the closing minutes, Head Coach Scott Brooks' club was able to use a 12-3 rally late to seal a 105-102 victory in Game Two of the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs over the Houston Rockets. The experience this Thunder squad has had over the past four seasons in the Playoffs came in handy tonight as it built a 2-0 series lead.
"We have been on both sides of those runs and the only way you can get through it is by sticking together," Brooks said. "We missed some open shots also but I have to give the guys credit for sticking together and continuing to trust the pass."
The continuity and teamwork between the core of the roster has been built over the past three seasons as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha have played in now 46 combined Playoff games together. That working knowledge of one another, in addition to the camaraderie built with new teammates over the 82-game regular season, gave the Thunder full confidence in one another in the waning moments on Wednesday. Despite having to deal with a 21-2 Houston run and 22 lead changes in the game, the Thunder grinded out a key victory.
"All season long we've been doing a great job of closing out big games and trying to prepare ourselves for moments like this," Westbrook said. "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 game out with the win."
"We just kept taking their punches and kept fighting," Perkins explained. "Every time they hit us with a punch, we fought back. We knew we weren't going to come in and get another blowout win. We just wanted to come in and do whatever it took. They switched up their lineups and tried to throw everything in the book at us, but we responded. There are some things we want to clean up, but we'll take the win."
Although it faced adversity and shots were falling for Houston, the Thunder didn't panic. In fact, when it got down to crunch time, the Thunder passed with flying colors. It executed on both ends of the floor, including making four assists on its final four made baskets, but on the defensive end was where the Thunder showed true grit down the stretch.
The Rockets made only one basket in the final two-and-a-half minutes, and it was only because the Thunder played the possession perfectly. Up by four with 11.3 seconds left, all five Thunder players ran Rockets three-point shooters off the arc, forcing a harmless two-point attempt after ten seconds had run off the clock. Despite the game pressure and the late push from Houston, the Thunder stayed mentally strong late.
"The best thing to do is to try and just be in the moment, continue to play and try to be locked in on what is going on on the floor each time," Collison said. "We locked in and focus was better late in the game."
Evidence of that concentration came on the other end of the floor as well, as Durant helmed the Thunder's attack against a pesky Rockets zone that tripped up the Thunder in the fourth quarter. In a game where it seemed Houston threw the kitchen sink at the Thunder in terms of having to problem solve, Brooks turned to its four-time All-Star to get the job done. With three assists and a massive three-pointer, Durant had a hand in ten out of the 12 crucial points for the Thunder during that decisive run.
"We made a little adjustment in their zone," Brooks said. "We had Kevin handling the ball up top. He's really improved his playmaking… I thought his trust tonight was critical. He kept trusting his teammates and they made shots for him at the end.
The patience that Durant displayed when navigating a pick-and-roll play to find Sefolosha on the wing, then the trust he had in Ibaka in both the lane and at the elbow were thrilling to see out of the league's second highest scorer. He's only the sixth player to ever register shooting percentages of 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the three-point line and 90 percent from the free throw line in the same season and he registered 29 points on Wednesday night. However, it was his playmaking - which resulted in nine assists to only one turnover – that sealed the win, and earned the praise of his teammates.
"Kevin has done a great job of learning," Ibaka said. "The last couple of minutes, they tried to go with two on Kevin every time. He did a good job to find open guys. All of us work every day in practice on our shot. It's just confidence and trust."
The Thunder trailed 95-91 with 3:27 remaining, but over the next three minutes it used a 12-3 run to turn the game around and grind out a victory. First, Kevin Durant hit Serge Ibaka for a layup after he cut to the rim through the zone, then Durant hustled back on defense to block a layup attempt. Russell Westbrook attacked the lane and nailed two free throws before a Kevin Durant three-pointer gave the Thunder the lead for good. Durant then drove around a screen and hit Thabo Sefolosha for a wide open three-pointer before hitting Ibaka for a mid-range jumper. That gave the Thunder a 103-98 advantage with 31.9 seconds remaining. During that three minute span, Durant had three assists and three points, as the Thunder assisted on all four of the buckets.
"One thing I just tried to do was be aggressive to score and to pass," Durant said. "Thabo hit some big shots. Serge hit a big shot. It was a good win."
Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Durant and Ibaka communicate on a switch and get out to each other's defenders to get a stop. Solid rotations by the Thunder on the defensive end to get in the passing lane and force a fumbled pass. Perkins boxes out and Ibaka hustles to track down a loose defensive board. Nice patience by Durant and Ibaka to set and re-set picks. Tough box out by Collison to fend of Asik for a defensive rebound. Nice patience by Durant to move the ball as he posted up.
Plays the box score won't show, second half:
Westbrook anticipates a lob and intercepts it on the back end, then threads a bounce pass to Sefolosha in the paint. Beautiful defensive rotation by Ibaka to slide over from the helpside and save a dunk. Durant dives on the floor to force a jump ball then wins it. Incredible hustle by Sefolosha to run in for an offensive rebound then save it in bounds. Perfect defensive rotations slow down the Rockets on offense, then the Thunder makes a steal.
"That was a hard fought game. Both teams really laid it on the line and went out there and competed on every possession. That's what you want from a Playoff atmosphere, and we got it." " – Head Coach Scott Brooks