Regular Season Recap: Thunder at Rockets
9 Points allowed by the Thunder in the fourth quarter, a season low, part of 19 points allowed in the second half, tied for the second fewest in NBA history
10-for-12 Shooting numbers for Reggie Jackson tonight in two-point range, as he racked up 23 points
11 Steals for the Thunder, including six by Reggie Jackson
15 Rebounds for Serge Ibaka to go with 21 points and five blocked shots
20 Points that the Thunder scored off of 17 Rockets turnovers
36 Points for Kevin Durant in addition to seven assists and five rebounds as he hit 18-of-20 free throws
46.3 Shooting percentage for the Thunder, including 29-for-53 from Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson combined
48-40 Edge for the Thunder in points in the paint, where it held Houston to 20-for-44 shooting
GAME IN REVIEW
By Nick Gallo, Thunder Basketball Writer
Jan. 16th, 2014
HOUSTON – Thursday night, Thunder fans, is why Head Coach Scott Brooks wants his team to be known as one that competes for 48 minutes.
Thursday night’s 104-92 victory over the Houston Rockets didn’t go too smoothly for the first 32 minutes, but by sticking together, staying mentally tough and focusing on what it could control helped the Thunder turn a 14-point third quarter deficit into a 12-point victory.
The Rockets scored a blistering 73 points in the first half, the most the Thunder had allowed all season, by knocking down 12-of-20 three-pointers. In the second half, the Thunder’s defense held Houston to just 19.4 percent shooting, including an 0-for-14 mark from behind the three-point arc. In addition, the Thunder forced the Rockets into 12 turnovers compared to just seven made field goals in the second half. It was the biggest negative point differential between halves for an NBA team in history, and the Thunder’s 19 points allowed in the second half matched the second lowest mark in NBA history.
As a perfect metaphor for just how quickly fortunes can change during the course of an NBA season, tonight’s game was an example of why the Thunder operates by a never-say-die attitude while trusting the principles and philosophy that has bred success to this point.
“This game, giving up so many points and then locking up on the defensive end and allowing them zero threes is kind of like the ups and downs of a season,” Brooks explained. “We’ve had some moments where we haven’t played to our standards, but we’ve kept chipping away and figuring out ways to get better.”
A 15-3 Thunder run to end the third quarter was capped by a spectacular Kevin Durant three-pointer to beat the buzzer, but throughout the final 24 minutes of action, the Thunder’s defense was beyond suffocating. Behind Durant’s palpable energy and leadership, in addition to his 36 points, seven assists and five rebounds, the Thunder shook off the first half and took care of business in the second half.
“We were so lost in the game we didn’t realize it until we got into the locker room,” Durant said. “We just tried to take it a possession at a time. We just tried to take it a possession at a time. It was special to see everybody play for each other.”
The victory was a full team effort, bred by the countless battles this Thunder squad has been through together. Leaders like Durant, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka were guiding forces, while Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and others found places where they could contribute. From a mental standpoint, the Thunder relied on one another, their collective toughness and inner fortitude to not let a difficult first half shake it. In the second half, it just played selflessly and let their cohesion on both ends do the work.
“It’s just knowing that a game can turn in just one play,” Durant said. “Perk was great in inspiring his teammates with his play. Steven was great. Reggie did a great job of just fighting through everything on the defensive end and keeping the ball in front. Serge was protecting the rim and making the right plays all night. Nick as well. I can go down the line, everybody came in and played inspiring basketball and gave themselves up for the team and that’s what we need.”
While the emotional and mental strength that the Thunder displayed was critical, there were also strategic and tactical decisions that helped Brooks’ squad get back into - then take control of - this one. First, the Thunder’s coaching staff cued up all 12 of the Rockets’ made three-pointers in the first half, showing where the team could do better in terms of switches, close outs and matchups in transition.
“We knew if were going to stay in this game, we had to clean up the three-point line,” Brooks said.
Also in the second half, the contest came down to grit and pride on the defensive end. Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams held Dwight Howard to an 11-point, eight rebound night on 5-of-13 shooting thanks to their physicality and ability to keep Howard out of the paint.
Meanwhile, Durant, Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha and Jeremy Lamb each worked at different times to hold James Harden scoreless in the final two quarters. Despite not shooting the ball great itself in the third quarter, the Thunder’s defense stayed solid.
“We didn’t let it affect our defense and we were able to come down and stifle them a little bit and get them out of rhythm,” Durant explained. “We did a great job of putting pressure on them. Our bigs did a great job on Howard and we were able to get a good win.”
Outside of Durant, Perkins and Adams’ efforts, two others stood out as game-changers. Ibaka blocked a season-high five shots while also adding 21 points and 15 rebounds, putting on a display of toughness, savvy and touch all at the same time. Jackson’s night was equally as well-rounded, as the third-year point guard scored 23 points and made a career-high six steals. Most importantly, however, he had four assists and set the tone on offense by getting the Thunder into its sets quickly and efficiently.
“When Reggie gets guys involved and locks up on the defensive end, he makes us a better team,” Brooks said. “He did a good job with his hands, did a good job of staying engaged on the defensive end, and he got everybody involved. He didn’t have a lot of assists, but he got us into an offensive pattern every time down court.”
Moving forward, the Thunder knows it will have to continue to get strong efforts from all parts of the roster, and to play with the same focus and precision as it did in the second half tonight.
This game turned on a 15-3 run to end the third quarter, when the Thunder erased an 80-68 Rockets advantage with 3:54 remaining in the quarter and turned it into an 83-83 game as the quarter ended. The burst started with back-to-back Serge Ibaka buckets that came off of Kevin Durant assists, then Derek Fisher nailed a three-pointer. Durant added a layup before finding Ibaka for a corner three-pointer. The quarter ended as Durant hit a deep three from the top of the key as the final second ticked off the clock. During that stretch, the Thunder forced two Rockets turnovers.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, FIRST HALF:
Kendrick Perkins’ pressure on the ball forces the Rockets into a turnover on the first possession. Perkins then boxes out strongly and tips a defensive rebound to a teammate. Smart move by Head Coach Scott Brooks to pressure in the backcourt to get the Rockets out of their offensive rhythm. Thabo Sefolosha moves his feet and steps in to draw a charge. Incredible one-handed, left-handed bounce pass from Reggie Jackson to Ibaka for a bucket. Perry Jones flies in on the offensive boards to slap a ball around that ended up in two Thunder free throws.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, SECOND HALF:
Sefolosha curls hard around a screen on defense to deflect the ball away and force a Rockets turnover. Perkins defends tough in the post, forcing a jump ball on an attempted Dwight Howard dunk. Strong rotations on the defensive end force the Rockets into a bad shot attempt late in the shot clock. Ibaka swats the ball out to Fisher on the offensive glass, and then Fisher knocks down a three-pointer. Steven Adams dives on the floor and forces a jump ball, then wins it. Incredible defensive play by Jackson in transition to slap the ball off the Rockets’ players body and out of bounds, then Jackson thwarts another fast break.
“We covered the paint, we made them shoot tough shots, but they were hitting threes in the first. In the second, we were able to contest some of those threes and also rebound the basketball. Offensively, we just moved the ball.” – forward Kevin Durant