Game Notes: Rockets at Thunder
Scola gets the Captain Hook treatment.
by Sean Ceglinsky
Ford Center in Oklahoma City is about as far away from home, sunny Southern California, as can be.
Nevertheless, there I was on Sunday night, working smack dab in the center of the United States, covering the Rockets and Thunder game instead of enjoying my holiday vacation. Bottom line: Catching Kevin Durant live, in action, was way too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Giving up a little free time was well worth it considering Durant was on point from the opening tip until the final buzzer, keeping everyone involved, teammates and fans alike, while making sure to get his. He finished with 25 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals in a 100-91 loss to Houston.
In time, with Durant at the helm, Oklahoma City will be good. Making the playoffs in the competitive Western Conference is within the realm of possibility. Don’t be surprised if that happens sooner, rather than later. Thing is, he needs help, something he didn’t have much of against the Rockets.
*** Tracy McGrady is in the house. In street clothes, that is. T-Mac practiced with Rockets a few days ago, an encouraging sign that he’s on the road to recovery from the microfracture knee surgery performed in February. He says, “I’m ready,‘’ but there’s no timetable for his return.
*** Speaking of injuries, doesn’t look like Nenad Kristic (achilles) or Nick Collison (knee) will be in uniform tonight for the Thunder. Guess that means there’s going to be an Etan Thomas sighting tonight. Can’t wait… No seriously, can’t wait. Thomas is one of the coolest cats in the NBA.
*** Right on queue, Thomas is in the starting lineup. And he makes he presence felt just seconds into the game, dunking on Luis Scola. Adding insult to injury, he pokes Scola in the right eye, leaving him a bloody mess. Not sure if the Argentinean will be coming back any time soon.
*** Durant gets hot, hitting a pair of jumpers and then a floater over Shane Battier. Minutes later, he brings the crowd to its feet. At the corner of the key, he crosses over Trevor Ariza, goes hard to the hole and bangs on Carl Landry to give Oklahoma City a 22-13 lead at 3:43.
*** With time winding down, Battier is the lone starter left out on the floor for Houston. But who are the other guys? Chase Budinger? Kyle Lowry? David Anderson? Jermaine Taylor? The Thunder lead 29-25 at the end of one, and if they don’t end up blowing the Rockets out, there’s something wrong.
*** For those who think Durant doesn’t get after it on defensive, think again. On a switch, he jumps out on the smaller and much quicker Lowry, who uses a head fake and a dribble drive in attempt to create space. It doesn’t work, Durant easily swats away the step back jumper and Oklahoma City is up 4 points at 6:01.
*** With Scola sidelined, Ariza is more assertive on the offensive end of the floor. He converts a layup in traffic to cut the deficit to 42-38 at the 3:46 mark and his leaner over Thabo Sefalosha makes it a 52-45 game with 0:15 left on the clock.
*** DJ White is given an opportunity and takes full advantage. He scores 8 points over the final 3:15, highlighted by a 16-footer to give the Thunder a 54-45 lead at intermission.
*** When Sefalosha starts jacking up three-pointers, nothing good can come of it. At 5:01 and up by four points, he bricks a wide open look. If the Rockets are going to make a run, now is as good a time as any.
*** Coming off a 6-15 effort from the floor in the first half, Ariza is struggling, no doubt about it. Shooters, however, are supposed to keep shooting. And he does just that, getting fouled, stepping to the line and knocking down a pair of free-throws to trim the Oklahoma City lead to 67-65 at 2:12.
*** The last person the Thunder want to see getting into a groove is Aaron Brooks. He’s as streaky as they come, and perhaps, could be the difference between winning and losing for the Rockets. His 17-footer ties the score, 67-67, and his jumper locks thing up at 69-69 with less than a minute left.
*** Durant is resilient, refusing to give an inch, regardless of whether anyone else is making a contribution. He knocks down a 10-foot jumper just to give Oklahoma City a two-point advantage at the end of three.
*** Standing alone on the perimeter, Budinger appears poised to put some distance between the two teams with a big three-pointer. But out of nowhere, Durant leaps into the frame rejects the shot, sending the ball into the third row seats.
*** With Durant out of the picture, Budinger gets his revenge, hitting one from way downtown to give Houston a 76-73 lead at 8:30.
*** Durant’s basket and made free-throw cuts the Houston lead to 80-78 with 6:01 left in the game.
*** Brooks proceeds to score 9 points over the final four-plus minutes to put things away.
*** In the locker room, Brooks did a good job of explaining Scola‘s new look: “At first I didn’t think it was that bad. I’d seen some blood and I’d seen a cut, but you never know how bad it was. To come in here and he looks like Captain Hook, you kind of feel bad for him.’’
*** When it came to Durant, Rockets coach Rick Adelman knew what to expect heading into the game: “We were really trying to zero in on him. He is a great player. Trying to help on him as much as we could and not give him any good looks at the basket.”