There was wild speculation about what the Thunder would be like without Russell Westbrook, simply because no one’s ever seen the Thunder without Russell Westbrook: he’s played every regular-season game, every playoff game, since he signed his rookie contract. And when Houston jumped out to an early 9-3 lead, everyone’s worst suspicions were confirmed. The rest of the first quarter, though, went 36-10 OKC, and the lead ballooned to 26 in the second. The Rockets would not take this lying down, and gradually whittled away at that lead: to 17 at the half, to only four after three quarters, and to zero at the 5:46 mark. Houston finally regained the lead, 94-93, with 3:45 left, and was up 99-97 three minutes later. What happened after that is the stuff of legend: Kevin Durant put up a trey which backrimmed, then frontrimmed, then somehow actually dropped. Then Derek Fisher swiped the ball from James Harden, drew a foul, and sank two free throws. With the Rockets down three, Harden sensibly went for the easy two; at the 0.08 mark, Reggie Jackson earned two freebies, Carlos Delfino’s last-second trey wound up in Jackson’s hands, and the Thunder won it, 104-101, to go up 3-0 in the series.
But damn, did those Rockets show some pluck. Harden once again led the parade with a nice solid 30; Chandler Parsons checked in with 21; Delfino’s 11 and Francisco Garcia’s 18 accounted for most of the bench points. (Both Kevin McHale and Scott Brooks played nine men.) Houston showed off some serious defense, swiping the ball six times and blocking 12 shots, four by Omar Asik, who’s expected to do that sort of thing, and three by Garcia, who isn’t. On the downside for the Rockets, Patrick Beverley was a trifle subdued, and Jeremy Lin was clearly unwell.
Still, Thunder blue came through. Durant got a whole 44 seconds of rest in 48 minutes, and still put up 41 points while gathering 14 rebounds. Serge Ibaka stepped up his offensive game: 17 points to go with 11 boards. And Jackson, apparently not at all flustered by getting an actual start, scored 14. (Okay, maybe a little flustered; he managed only one assist and turned it over three times. Then again, Westbrook used to turn it over three times in a quarter and nobody said a word.) And wily old Derek Fisher, spelling Jackson, was good for nine and a team-high +14.
As for Westbrook, he had his operation today, and he’ll be fine. Eventually. I mention purely in passing that Thunder castoff Nate Robinson scored 34 points in 28½ minutes before fouling out, as the Bulls edged the Nets 142-134 in triple overtime.