NEXT GAME: Monday, April 29th
9 Rebounds for Thabo Sefolosha, including eight on the defensive end
18-9 The Thunder’s advantage in second chance points on the night
23 Combined points for Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher on 6-for-12 shooting, including 3-for-7 from three and 8-for-8 from the free throw line
28-for-30 The Thunder’s free throw shooting numbers on the night, good for 93.3 percent
39-19 The amount by which the Thunder outscored the Rockets in the first quarter
41 Points for Kevin Durant in addition to 14 rebounds, four assists and two steals
49-41 The Thunder’s rebounding advantage tonight
April 27th, 2013
HOUSTON – In a hostile environment and facing adversity, the Thunder had only one another and those in the organization to rely upon. On Saturday night everyone came through to help the team succeed.
It was a thrilling 104-101 Thunder victory over the Houston Rockets as Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club built a 26-point first quarter lead after a 20-2 run. Kevin Durant scored 27 of his Playoff-high-tying 41 total points on the evening in the first half and also snagged 14 rebounds.
The Thunder’s leading man handled the ball for a large percentage of the night while relying on his teammates to help in a variety of areas in the game. Houston managed to battle back and even take a two-point lead in the final minute, but behind a tough Durant three-pointer and four clutch free throws from Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson, the Thunder prevailed.
“We did such a great job of just staying together and on the road, that’s what you want to do,” Durant said.
This is not new territory for the Thunder as it has been in plenty of Playoff battles over the past few seasons. Leaders like Durant and veterans like Nick Collison, Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins have helped prepare the young Thunder squad with the requisite mental toughness and resilience necessary to get a win on the road in the Playoffs. Houston’s late fourth quarter charge could have been a massive blow to some teams, but the Thunder played with composure and stayed calm throughout the night, eventually making enough plays to get a win.
“It’s always about being composed and playing in the moment right then and there,” Brooks said. “You can’t worry about the last play. You always have to focus on the play ahead. It’s mental toughness. It’s something we talk about and our guys display night in and night out and every day in practice. They just have that mentality. Their competitive spirit has always been at a high level.”
That competitiveness and toughness allowed every man who saw action tonight to make an impact. Jackson and Fisher assumed ball-handling duties while also scoring an efficient 23 points on 12 combined shots. Kevin Martin was aggressive and chipped in 12 points while Thabo Sefolosha snagged nine of the team’s 49 rebounds. Those extra opportunities for the Thunder and one-shot-and-done possessions for Houston were essential to the Thunder’ success.
“We did a great job, especially in the first half, of boxing out and making sure they had only one shot and not multiple shots per possession,” Sefolosha said. “It was good and there were a lot of small things that we did well. That was a key entering the game.”
Along with composure in the midst of a game, the Thunder has previously shown poise in between games in Playoff series, and that continued tonight. Heading into this one the Thunder believed that boxing out and rebounding was going to be a critical aspect of the game. Houston plays a small, four-guard lineup, so staying in front of the quick Rockets players was important. Serge Ibaka snagged 11 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end which led to 18 second chance points for Brooks’ squad.
“It was our focus,” Ibaka said. “When teams try to play small, you need to try to do something. You can win when they go small. That was my mentality tonight… Just extra effort. They went small, so that’s on me and I need to try every time I can to go to the glass.”
The Thunder made those second and third efforts on every possession on both ends of the floor, and it was just enough to get a solid win on the road to give itself a 3-0 series lead. Moving forward, however, the Thunder must make strides in its execution on the offensive end and collective ability to get stops on the defensive side of the ball. The energy, intensity and focus is at a high level for the Thunder, and those factors will help the team make improvements going forward.
“I think our composure helped us be able to get just enough to win,” Collison said. “We made just enough plays and stepped to the line and made free throws. It’s a big win for us. We’re fortunate to get it. We have to be ready to go and try to get Game 4.”
It seemed that an early 20-2 run in the first quarter might be the turning point in this one, but the Thunder truly shut the door in this one over the final minute of play. The Rockets led by a score of 99-97 with 45.2 seconds remaining after a Francisco Garcia three-pointer, but on the next trip down court Kevin Durant hit a three-pointer that bounced off the cylinder four times before finally dropping. Derek Fisher followed that up with a steal and two big free throws, then after a Houston bucket, Reggie Jackson hit another pair of clutch free throws with just 8.0 seconds remaining. Serge Ibaka made a perfect close-out on and contested a missed Rockets three-pointer at the buzzer to seal the victory.
Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Ibaka fights and battles for an offensive rebound, tipping it to himself and then knocking down a jumper. Beautiful skip pass from Sefolosha to Jackson in the corner for an open three-pointer. Great job of scrambling to close out by the Thunder on the perimeter. Ibaka with a huge play to slap an offensive rebound back out to the perimeter right into the waiting arms of Durant for a three. Durant slides and moves his feet in a good defensive stance to draw a charge.
Plays the box score won't show, second half:
Wonderful hesitation then extra pass from Perkins to Ibaka inside the paint to get an easy dunk, then Perkins boxes out and battles hard on the defensive glass to get the Thunder possession back. Great team length and a good job of keeping hands wide to cause a deflection and a steal. Ibaka tips out another offensive board then slams home a put-back on the same possession. Fisher deftly slaps the ball away on a drive to create a steal. Huge play by Martin to intercept a pass into the post from behind.
“We moved the basketball. We hit shots. We got stops. Once you do that, getting stop after stop, it leads to good offense… We stayed poised, we made big plays down the stretch.” – Forward Kevin Durant