A big statement for the Oklahoma City Thunder as they beat the Houston Rockets 106-98. Russell Westbrook was fighting his inner demons with Patrick Beverley making life very difficult for him most of the night, but Kevin Durant seemed in a zone of his own, not for the first time this season, making yet another impressive scoring performance look almost effortless and easy.
Durant scored 42 points on 12-of-22 from the field, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and scoring half of his points on pull up jumpers. Just like that. The Thunder don’t run anything very complicated. They played very good defense despite the continued absence of Perkins and Sefolosha, while letting the hot hand take care of business offensively.
Westbrook wasn’t as accurate (6-of-14) from the field, but he did score 24 points and got over a rough first quarter and first half, as the memory of Beverley injuring him in last season’s playoff series came together with Beverley doing his best to get into Westbrook’s head. After turning the ball over four times in the first quarter, he calmed down and like the rest of his teammates, outplayed the Rockets in almost every aspect of the game.
The Thunder’s defense was their problem in recent losses, and it was their defense – clogging the paint and making it very difficult for Dwight Howard, and moving out very quickly to Harden, Parsons and anyone else, holding Houston to only 41.5% from the field as James Harden and especially Chandler Parsons forgot about giving up and passing on bad shots. They didn’t see too many they didn’t like in this game, combining to shoot 15-of-38 from the field.
Serge Ibaka wasn’t his efficient self on offense with 6-of-14 from the field, but for the third time this season he made life for Dwight Howard very difficult. He finished with 12 points, 16 rebounds and 4 blocks, as the Thunder continue to be quite a puzzling team for the Rockets to figure out, saying a lot about what might happen between the two sides in the playoffs.
So are the Thunder’s problems over? Nope. Not while Perkins and Sefolosha are out. It’s great having Durant to rely on when it comes to hiding a lot of the team’s faults, and there’s an obvious mismatch in their favor when they face the Rockets as long as Houston continue to be coached by someone who has 0 creativity when it comes to his offensive gameplan, but other teams might not be so easy to handle while their defense is going through the motions and Westbrook himself finds it diffucult to get through certain emotions.
Maybe the top spot in the West isn’t that much of a big deal for the Thunder, but it probably is. In such a tight race with so many good teams chasing them, losing focus for two-three consecutive games could be costly. This is the kind of defense the Thunder are going to need the rest of the way, and it’s going to be about more than just Durant, who’ll have worse nights than this from time to time, if the Thunder are to finish first in the West, making the Perkins and Sefolosha absence mean less than it should.