It’s not like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are angry with their former teammate and best friend James Harden, but it seems they take great joy in beating him. The Oklahoma City Thunder simply have too much offense and the right kind of defense for the Houston Rockets to handle.
While the Rockets gave great defensive teams like Minnesota, Chicago and Memphis a world of problems over the last few weeks with their high paced offense and with no one being able to handle James Harden on the fast break and his isolation plays, the last two defeats against the San Antonio Spurs and the Thunder teach us something different. The way to beating the Rockets isn’t great defense, but having the ability to run with them and outscoring them.
The Rockets and the Thunder have been switching positions at the top of the NBA’s scoring charts for last couple of weeks, but in Houston, the Thunder got a knockout victory. Their defense stepped up in the fourth quarter and made life very hard for Harden and his isolation plays, swatted and defended very well by a very athletic group that had no problem making the right kind of switches against the strong headed guard, who didn’t look quite often for his teammates. Harden finished with 25 points, shooting 6-17 from the field, finishing with only 1 assist.
On the other end, it was the Thunder gone wild, from the moment Kevin Durant got going. He did miss seven of his first eight shots, but cored 11 points during a 16-0 run by the Thunder to end the first half and another big run early in the third closed out the game, as the Thunder, with a 124-94 win, enjoyed their most impressive offensive performance on the road in over three years.
Durant finished with 26 points, hitting four three pointers. The best player on the court was Russell Westbrook, who obviously took more shots than Durant, but unlike a lot of times this season, his efficiency off the pick n’ roll was fantastic. He finished with 28 points and 8 assists (50%) from the field, and was 6-for-9 and scored 14 on pick n’ roll plays. He is shooting 39.8 percent on pick-and-roll plays this season and has been involved in the second-most plays as the pick-and-roll ball handler in the league, behind Raymond Felton.
This was an ugly game in terms of ball handling. The pace was too much to handle quite often, but the Thunder made the most of that. They turned the ball over 21 times, the Rockets did 24 times. They also allowed the Thunder to score 32 points off these turnovers, as Jeremy Lin and James Harden combined for 8.
It was a matter of who has the ability to play good defense and smart offense, and the Thunder showed once again that they’re superior by quite a large distance in that department. James Harden talked about being careless with the ball, but maybe with some sort of a point to prove after losing his previous meeting with his former team, he made things worst by being selfish.