It really had to end this way: a jump between Kevin Martin and Patrick Beverley with a fraction of a second left, meaning nothing except to show that the chip on Beverley’s shoulder hadn’t shrunk. That’s fine. The kid will have the rest of May to fume, as the Rockets suffered the usual fate of #8 seeds: a first-round exit.
And that fate wasn’t at all certain: once again, Houston got an early lead, and once again, Oklahoma City came out for the third quarter breathing something other than actual air. You can’t blame the kid for being cocky; hell, those crazy Okies were putting Derek Fisher on James Harden, they must be desperate, right? And there’s the Beard, shooting 7-22, and there’s Fish, swiping the ball from him twice. They said Harden wasn’t feeling well, but Harden isn’t the kind of guy who makes excuses for things. Then there’s the Houston bench, which scored 11 points, or just about as many as, um, Derek Fisher. You had to figure that if Martin showed up, the Thunder might just wrap it up. “Remember me?” said K-Mart, knocking down 7-13 and eight consecutive free throws for 25 points. And the Thunder, thus fortified, did indeed wrap it up, 103-94, earning the honor, if such it be, of playing the second round against the much-scarier Memphis Grizzlies. Patrick Beverley wishes he were as badass as the Griz.
Still, the Rockets made a fight of it. Twenty-six points for Harden, 25 for Chandler Parsons, a nicely-balanced double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) for Omer Asik, who just incidentally got to put up 12 foul shots. (He made seven, about his average.) It did not help that stalwart reserve Carlos Delfino had fractured his foot and was not available. And Beverley, while plenty busy, was not so effective this time around, shooting 4-11 and managing not a single assist. (The Rockets had only 16 dimes, and Harden and Francisco Garcia served up most of them.)
But let’s go back to Asik for a moment, who missed those five free throws. His teammates had six more clang away to no avail. That’s 11 points Houston gave away. (The Thunder put up only 16 free throws all night, but hit every last one of them.) When you lose by nine, you think about such things — when you’re not thinking “Wait ’til next year,” anyway.
Scott Brooks, it appears, is apparently capable of learning. Kendrick Perkins disappeared after four minutes, which allowed Nick Collison some actual playing time, which I have to believe helped Kevin Martin out of his slump; those two are downright deadly together. And while Kevin Durant had the game high of 27 points, he didn’t have to go play Hero Ball to get it; for once, everyone was playing at the same level, and it worked. Whether it will work against the Grizzlies — well, we start finding that out Sunday afternoon.