Because of the incomparable skills of both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, folding to the Oklahoma City Thunder late in what was once a nail-biter seems pretty easy. No matter the lead built or deficit overcome, those two men can shoot teams down on the first leg of ascent. Westbrook’s chaotic nature appears to make plays happen in dizzying spurts, forcing a viewer to keep an eye on him at all time in fear of what he might do or has already done while the audience blinked; this serves as a counter to the fluidity of Durant’s hammer, the grace and raw power that flow through every part of his meticulously crafted release that allow him to get off and drain shots other players wouldn’t consider putting up for fear of embarrassment. Yeah, quitting when these guys get going should be entirely reasonable. Thankfully on this Wednesday night, the Rockets were less than reasonable.
Though Durant and Westbrook were transcendent enough to eventually the carry OKC past the Rockets for the first time in Houston in five years (Durant posted an unholy 30 points on 17 shots with six rebounds while Westbrook “underperformed” by dropping 23, 13 and eight on the very suspecting heads of the Rockets), Houston played one of its best games of the season in the losing effort, emphasis on the word “effort”. Despite the Thunder occasionally holding true to the five-men-on-a-string ideal of defense, hassling the Rockets’ wings incessantly even without causing many turnovers, the Rockets consistently found ways to produce Wednesday night, even as the offense had trouble all clicking at once. In the two games since Martin has been on the pine, the constant motion of the Rockets’ offense has been tempered significantly as the man who used all of those screens and cuts so often, Martin, isn’t in action; as a result, Houston’s offense has gotten much simpler. And much better.
After posting 122 points per 100 possessions in Monday’s upset over Boston, the Rockets got a very healthy 113 per 100 last night due to the changed responsibilities in the absence of the team’s best player. Kyle Lowry has not only been the primary ball handler as he was long before Aaron Brooks’ return, but he’s also been able to create more by penetrating without fear of dragging his defender into the neat pockets of space Martin and Luis Scola need to get their very accurate shots off. The result? The Rockets shot almost 54% from inside the three-point line, including a big night from Scola in which he channeled all of his World Championship powers, pretended he was representing Argentina (hmm… I guess he always is, especially with that hair) and exploded into Jeff Green’s face for 31 points and 11 boards.
When Nick Collison replaced Green and mitigated Scola’s damage, another large fellow with a sweet shot took up the burden; Patrick Patterson has been a godsend, missing little and making mistakes even less, and his automatic offense helped Scola and the Rockets curtail the double-digit run the Thunder had put together entering the second half. His one miss on the night was a little disheartening, one of the wide-bodied, precise engine-of-a-man’s only post-ups since being recalled from the D-League, and the jitters may have gotten hold of him, leading him to throw up a series of unconvincing fakes and half-pivots before releasing a well contested hook shot that careened high off of the backboard. Still, this Rockets team symbolized hope and persistence after a string of injuries so nasty any other team would likely buckle. Even in games in which they are given so many opportunities to collapse (the Rockets were down 11 points in the last four minutes of this one, yet they somehow cut this to two with 20 seconds left. Unfortunately, entering a free-throw shooting contest with the Thunder is like slapboxing with Mike Tyson), the Rockets fight, the Rockets stand, the Rockets bleed from their lips and smile.
When teams shoot 66% in the later half of a game, teams facing the former generally lose. The Rockets were no exception, but they’ll be damned if they didn’t try to become one. And no one can fault them for trying.
Houston Rockets 112, Oklahoma City Thunder 118
On to the links…
- Royce Young also wrote some post-game thoughts in a fantastic write up on Daily Thunder that features some ridiculous, awesome one line observations about Houston: “And (Scola’s) hair seriously looks like the worst wig in the world. It’s like something you’d find in a drama classroom closet under a bunch of musky costumes.”
- Toward the end of Jonathan Feigen’s blog about Houston over at Chron.com, he gives a pretty hopeful assessment of the Rockets’ chances to get a certain frustrated Denver Nugget, even if hopeful means “having a shot in hell”: “…the Rockets can pick up Anthony and Al Harrington or Renaldo Balkman without costing the Nuggets spending a dime in paying corresponding salaries, just by using the final months of Yao Ming’s contract (with insurance picking up the tab) and either the Trevor Ariza trade exception or the disabled player exception the Rockets expect to receive. If the Nuggets prefer, they can get some short-term help from the expiring veteran contracts of Jared Jeffries, Shane Battier or Chuck Hayes… The Rockets remain a long, long, longshot, of course. And in trades especially, if you’re not first, you’re last. Still, the Rockets keep lurking, knowing that sometimes things change.”
- A few days ago, Bethlehem Shoals linked to the website of professor Yago Colás, a University of Michigan professor who has been teaching a “Cultures of Basketball” course for several years at UM. His basketball criticism stands as some of the most nuanced, insightful and human sportswriting, if it can be denigrated so much so to describe it as such, that I’ve ever read, and his diary of his first day of the course this semester yields some of the funnier neurotic rambling I’ve read this year: “I take off my hat, then feel self-conscious of my shaved head and put my hat back on. Will I be cooler with the hat or without it? If I was Ray Allen it would be okay to take the hat off. If I was Ray Allen it wouldn’t matter if I had the hat on or off. If I was Ray Allen I wouldn’t be here at all.”
- In what was the coolest thing ever, the Clippers hosted the Miami Heat Wednesday night and handled them with aplomb, coming out on top 111-105. In the midst of a furious comeback, LeBron James seemed to tweak his ankle and likely sent half of the country into a fit of schadenfreude-produced glee. Of course, as it turns out, he’s fine and literally hit a three on the same play in which he seemed to get hurt. Because he’s still LeBron, and even after all of the awful PR and overdone marketing, we are still witnesses. God, I hate saying that.
- GAH! THERE’S A BEAR IN A BRUINS BEANIE! AHHH… oh. Right. The big shamrock and all. Got it.
That’s all. Thanks for reading, folks.