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).