Is there something in the Thunder playbook that says “Start out slow”? Once again, OKC fell behind early 14-4 early on, 43-29 with five minutes left in the first half and had to play catchup. Fortunately, by now they’re good at it, and the Thunder led Houston 84-82 after three quarters. But the Rockets evened it up quickly, aided by a sieve-like Thunder perimeter defense if Houston wasn’t actually getting the treys, they were getting free throws and pulled away in the last few minutes, winning 111-107, clinching a playoff spot, and avoiding the season sweep.
The man of the hour, unsurprisingly, was James Harden, whose 9-22 shooting was pretty decent, but whose performance at the stripe won it: The Beard was 17-20 on free throws. The entire Thunder team was 18-20. Remember what I said about the Oklahoma City perimeter defense? Harden cashed in big on both ends. And when it wasn’t Harden, it was Chandler Parsons (23 points, 10-11 from the stripe); Terrence Jones and Omer Asik combined for just over half of Houston’s 45 rebounds.
Weirdly, both teams had 45 rebounds, and both teams were 13-31 from three-point land. In Russell Westbrook’s absence, Reggie Jackson mostly acquitted himself well, with 17 points, seven assists, and only a couple of “WTF were you thinking?” moments. Steven Adams, starting in the middle while Kendrick Perkins rests up, rolled his ankle; this meant that most of the night, Serge Ibaka was playing something like center. And Serge was up to it; he hit 11-17 for a career-high-tying 27 points, reeled in nine boards, and swatted six shots. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, was having a bad day, at least by Kevin Durant standards: 28 points that’s 40 games in a row at 25 or more, so scoot over on the bench there, MJ albeit only 7-19 from the floor, six assists and 12 rebounds. Caron Butler led the bench with 13. (The entire Houston bench Kevin McHale played only three reserves had 14.) Jeremy Lamb, ostensibly the player from whom Butler was taking minutes, did show up for 22 tonight, 5-8 for 12 points.
This of course drops the Thunder to 3½ games behind San Antonio with seven to play. But I tell you what: if the seeding at the end is the same as the seeding tonight, I’d much rather play Dallas (#7) in the first round than Memphis (#8).