Regular Season Recap - Thunder vs. Rockets
5 Offensive rebounds each for Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka on the night. The duo combined for 17 rebounds
6 Blocked shots for Serge Ibaka, one shy of his season-high
9 Assists for Russell Westbrook, increasing his season-average, which is already top-six in the NBA.
11-for-13 Shooting numbers for Serge Ibaka, who scored 23 points, two shy of his career-high, and went 1-for-1 from three point range.
20 Point differential for the Thunder in the second and fourth quarters combined tonight.
37 Points for Kevin Durant in addition to seven rebounds and four assists.
46 Rebounds for the Thunder, six more than the Houston Rockets. The Thunder scored 20 second chance points on 15 offensive rebounds.
54 Shooting percentage for the Thunder, its third-best mark of the year
GAME IN REVIEW
By Nick Gallo, Thunder Basketball Writer
When it plays this type of aggressive, lock-down defense, the Thunder can shut down opponents primary options and take control of the game.
On Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets, the Thunder used that in-your-face defense to lock down the Rockets perimeter players in a 120-98 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena. It all started out front with Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Durant, who took it as a challenge to harass Jeremy Lin and James Harden at the top of the key all night. The rest of the Head Coach Scott Brooks’ defense followed suit, holding the Rockets to 41.4 percent shooting.
“The key was for everybody to be in tune, helping one another and really putting the pressure on their guards,” Sefolosha said.
The Thunder held the Rockets to 20 points in the second quarter and was fueled by a 13-1 run early in that period to turn a nip-and-tuck affair into a double-digit margin that lasted throughout the night. After exchanging baskets through most of the third quarter, the Thunder ratcheted up the energy in the fourth quarter, outscoring its opponents by ten in the final frame.
“I think we did a really good job of turning up our intensity on the defensive end there in the fourth quarter,” Durant said.
From the opening tip throughout the evening, Kevin Durant’s mastery on the offensive end was only matched by his intensity, determination and leadership throughout every facet of the game. His 37 points are what may stick out on the stat sheet, but Durant’s hustle, fight and extra effort plays spurred on the rest of the squad, including veteran forward and resident hustle expert Nick Collison.
“Kevin has matured a lot, Russell has too,” Collison said. “Russell has been great too in that type of role… Myself, Perk, Thabo and those guys are now the older guys, or the guys who have the most experience. Part of that is not just paying attention to your game, but also trying to bring everybody else up. That’s the difference for young players, and I think those guys are doing a good job of picking that up.”
The leadership and scoring tandem of Durant and Westbrook is one that has been years in the making since the Thunder and its pair of 24-year olds arrived in Oklahoma City. Over the years both players’ games have evolved, with Durant becoming a more effective rebounder and drive-and-dish player. As he has shown this year, Westbrook has grown as the team’s floor general, increasing his top-10 assists average with nine tonight.
“He’s just slowing down and taking his time,” Durant said. “As you start to grow in this league, the game starts to slow down for you a little bit, you start to see things earlier than you would in your first or second year. He was just getting everybody involved… He’s sacrificing shots for himself to mix it around for the whole team. That’s what great point guards do and he’s having a hell of a season.”
One reason Westbrook has had an effective start to the season is because of the dead-eye shooting of Serge Ibaka, that was once again on display tonight. The Thunder’s long, rangy forward went 11-for-13 from the field, knocking down open midrange jumpers, hitting half-hook shots in the lane and even a corner three-pointer. With Ibaka as an effective outlet out of the pick-and-roll, Westbrook has a big, efficient target to pass to.
“He’s a tremendous shooter,” Brooks said. “He’s one of our best shooters and I’ve said that many times over and over. Now he’s stepping out and hitting threes, not at the numbers that we would want but he had a great game. His stat line was very good offensively. Defensively he had six blocks and that’s what we need him to do. That’s what is going to keep pushing our team in the right direction; everybody stepping up and playing well for us.”
The Thunder’s 54 percent shooting on the night was partially attributed to Ibaka’s strong shooting performance, but also to the general flow of the Thunder offense, which produced 26 assists. That was one area in which Collison wanted his team to get better this year, although the team’s focus is mostly grounded to the defensive side of the ball. The thing about this Thunder squad is that, despite its victory tonight, it will hit the gym at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center with just as much vigor tomorrow morning.
“We still have a lot of room to improve, that’s the good thing about our team,” Collison said. “I still think we can get a lot better. I think passing the ball is something we can really point to that has been good for us and we need to keep building on that.”
The turning point in this one came early in the second quarter, when the Thunder turned this game from a back-and-forth contest to a comfortable victory. The Thunder took a two-point lead into the second quarter, but scored 13 of the first 14 points of the quarter to build a double-digit lead that it would never relinquish. The Thunder got three layups during the stretch from Kevin Martin, Nick Collison and Russell Westbrook, in addition to a three-pointer and a midrange jumper from Martin and two free throws from Kevin Durant. The defense was also key from the beginning of the second quarter until the 8:04 mark, as the Thunder forced four turnovers and five missed shots in a row.
Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Durant doesn’t fall for the Euro-step and Ibaka swats Harden’s shot to force another wasted possession. Collison hustles to the rim in transition and snags an offensive rebound, then dishes to Ibaka for a jumper. Great hustle by Thabeet to fend off three Rockets to draw a foul on the offensive boards.
Plays the box score won't show, second half:
Wonderful sequence by Ibaka as he stays on the ground and doesn’t bite on Asik’s pump fake, then tips an offensive rebound to himself. Pressure defense by Durant forces Daequan Cook to lose track of his spacing on the floor and turn it over. Durant flies over in help-side defense and bats away a pass that could have led to an easy bucket.
“We came out and played a good basketball game against a team that played last night and had a tough travel. I thought our aggression was really good. I thought we were solid. Defensively, we showed up throughout the game. I thought we were playing solid on both ends of the floor.” – Head Coach Scott Brooks