Analysis can be found after the jump.
And that is what can happen when a team plays solid defense, just solid, even for a night, even against a very talented team. Perhaps it helped that the Oklahoma City Thunder rarely seemed to care to implement any particular offensive scheme for the majority of the night (“chunk it to Durant, no matter the situation” seems to be a popular thought as far as Thunder ballhandlers go). Still, the Rockets stared defeat in the face once again last night and, for once, reacted like a team full of veterans instead of a collection of underrated talent. Team captain and all-around champion of the world Shane Battier had one of the eight nights a year he generally has that look great in a stat sheet (18 points on 11 shots, including some very timely threes and a runner that somehow looked good all the way until it smoothly passed through the net), but as it usually is with the cap’n, Battier’s harassing defense of Kevin Durant made every one of those impossible shots Durant attempts look slightly less plausible and wrested control of a game in which the Thunder seemed to gladly turn it on at will. In the end, the discomfort caused by Battier won this game, as he literally made Durant’s last second fadeaway the kind of blind circus shot that only the greats can make and attempt to take any kind of real credit (thankfully, the great Durant hit the front of the rim and Houston fans went home happy*).
The Rockets did make curious choices on offense throughout the night, consistently going away from its strengths and leaving a lot of balls in Kyle Lowry’s hands that should not have been (anyone who watched this game knows the particular play that comes to mind as Lowry wasted 19 seconds of a shot clock in order to create a step-back shot at the elbow, the kind of possession that would have been abysmal with five minutes left and literally left fans dumbfounded as the play ended with a Thunder rebound with three ticks left on the game clock). Luis Scola’s final totals may not look too gaudy, but he was getting whatever he wanted through deliberate work with Jeff Green’s thin chest behind him in the first quarter; Scottie Brooks noticed such and took Scola off the block by unleashing Nick Collison on the Argentinian. Though this led to many bad shots for Scola (his 5 for 14 line is easily his worst of the year), the team neglected to run the offense through him ever again; similarly mind-boggling was Chase Budinger, who is having the worst sophomore slump I’ve seen a Rocket experience in ever, staying in the game until the last four minutes as the Thunder creeped back into the game. In the Year of the Great Rotation Wars, though, coach Adelman made some fine moves, such as keeping an ice-cold Scola from replacing Jordan Hill and his burst of athletic energy in a front court that often looked like most of the action was taking place above it for much of Sunday’s contest (Serge Ibaka scored 12 of his team’s first 14 points on what felt like a 100 offensive rebounds grabbed right in front of Scola and Chuck Hayes). Hill, as well as a headband-ed and invigorated Brad Miller, dominated the boards in a second half in which no shot felt easy for Houston.
Sometimes, earned feels better than easy. Not allowing Kevin Durant to touch the ball anywhere where he is comfortable (which feels like it is every single place on a basketball court) was earned. Funneling Russell Westbrook into a cloud of defenders must be earned (though Nenad Kristic’s absence did hurt the Thunder’s spacing tremendously, as the team shoots the worst three-point percentage in the NBA. Kristic’s ability to knock down the 19-footer often keeps overmatched defenders waiting to collapse on Westbrook honest). Outrebounding a team that appears to feature more athleticism in its seven-footers than any human on Houston’s roster was earned. The Rockets did those things, not all things, but those important things well tonight. The team grabbed its most impressive victory because of it.
* I was a spectator at last night’s match, seated comfortably in the top of the lower bowl. My view was great, as it seems all at the Toyota Center are, and because of such, I got a first-hand glimpse of what a miserable crowd shows up to these Rockets games. I was stared down by small children waiting for me to stop cheering, as I was one of the freaks getting excited when shots were made, defensive assignments missed and turnovers created. I must have seemed a raving loon given the complete lack of excitement in anyone else within a 10 row radius. I have called for this team to be decimated, routinely lumped criticism on players I felt were not given requisite effort and questioned some of this team’s offseason moves. But, as a spectator at a game, I am a fan above all else, and as a fan, I should exude as much energy as humanly possible in hopes that that energy could somehow help the home team. Instead, the laconic lower bowl sighed and exited en masse from a Rockets game with a minute left, still obviously hanging in the balance. I doubt this will matter to those reading it, likely the kinds of fans who are actually, well, being fans when going to games and cheering more for inspired Houston play than free t-shirts. For the rest of you season-ticket-holding, company-comped suckers twiddling your thumbs as a Houston team tries to hold its ground in its best battle this year, step your game up. The team needs you more than ever to act like you give a damn to validate that they still are.
Houston Rockets 99, Oklahoma City Thunder 98
No links. Sorry; I’m having a bit of a problem with internet connection at the pad and do not have enough time to amass all of the links elsewhere. I will, at some point this week after my connection issues are solved, unleash a flurry of links like no man, woman or child has before seen. In the meantime, bide your time with the Russ Westbrook dunk that almost toppled the Rockets’ hard-fought effort and certainly made me stop cheering for the team I have since childhood for a second to yelp in the wake of Westbrook’s glory.