Three-Pointers: Thunder eliminate Rockets thanks to big bench efforts
The Thunder defeated the Rockets 103-94 in Game 6 on Friday, advancing to face the Grizzlies in a Western Conference semifinals series that will begin Sunday.
• Kevin Durant finally got some meaningful help. Oklahoma City’s Game 6 victory was easily its best performance of the post Russell Westbrook era. Granted, that era only totals a four-game sample, but so many of the words used to describe Games 3, 4 and 5 of this series — burden, inconsistent, imbalanced, choppy, unreliable — just didn’t apply.
The Thunder put six players into double figures and received series-altering contributions from a bench unit that has been mostly invisible. There were three reserves playing hero roles in Game 6, and when that happens the winning coach generally goes home a happy man.
“I thought that was one of our best Thunder team wins that we’ve had all season,” coach Scott Brooks said. “I thought the guys really laid everything on the line. That’s what playoff basketball is about. That’s what team basketball is all about.”
Kevin Martin, Nick Collison and Derek Fisher all played huge roles, and they did so by essentially providing their “best-case scenario” performances on the same night. Martin scored 25 points (on seven-for-13 shooting), delivering by far his best shooting night of the series while also totaling his highest point total since Nov. 16, 2012! While most of Martin’s scoring — 21 points — came in the first half, his early production was crucial because the Rockets raced out in the first quarter thanks to a loud Toyota Center crowd. Martin’s work not only kept the Thunder hanging around, it pushed them to a halftime lead.
Collison has seen his playing time waver during this series, much to the chagrin of his many supporters, who applaud his high-IQ plays, excellent positioning on defense and tireless work on the glass. On Friday, he brought all of that, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes, playing key minutes in a small ball lineup down the stretch as Brooks sat both Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. His four offensive rebounds were timely and punishing.
Finally, Fisher. This was a turn-back-the-clock performance for the 38-year-old guard, who slumped badly after signing with the Thunder in February. He scored 11 points (including three big three-pointers, two of which came in the fourth quarter), and that offensive punch picked up where Martin left off at halftime, ensuring a smooth ride for the Thunder attack. But Fisher’s work on an ailing James Harden was even more important. Harden, stricken with strep throat, looked fatigued in general and was very slow off the dribble, scoring 26 points (on seven-for-22 shooting) and dishing seven assists. Two of Harden’s four turnovers came on fourth-quarter steals by Fisher, and both plays led to run-out baskets in transition that helped seal the game.
“It makes no sense for me to defend Fish, what he brings to our team,” Brooks said afterwards, nodding toward the negativity that has come Fisher’s way over the last few months. This was about as close as Brooks gets to an “I told you so” and it was hard to begrudge him his moment after this performance.
After a series that went longer than initially expected and was full of emotional swings, Oklahoma City heads home for Game 1 against the Grizzlies on Sunday on an unquestioned high note.
“That’s a true character win for our guys,” Brooks said. “I thought our team spirit was at the highest level it’s been all season.”
• Oklahoma City finds actual balance on offense. All of the positivity mentioned above flows from the fact that the Thunder weren’t only reliant, or over-reliant, on Durant to do it all on offense. Durant still finished with a game-high 27 points (on 11-for-23 shooting), eight rebounds, six assists and two steals, and there was no doubt he was the best player on the court.
Proportionally, though, his impact on the Thunder attack was at its lowest mark since Westbrook’s injury. Here’s a chart that shows Durant’s scoring as a percentage of the Thunder’s total points throughout the series. Games 1 and 2 are marked red because Westbrook played in those games; the rest of the games, in which Westbrook was unable, are marked blue.
The chart clearly illustrates the major burden on Durant during Games 3, 4 and 5: he was accounting for between 35 and 39 percent of Oklahoma City’s offense by himself. In Game 6, that number dropped to 26 percent, roughly equal to his figure from Game 2. That’s a healthier level. It’s not that the Thunder are doomed if Durant is doing it all as they did prevail in Game 3, but it’s safe to assume that winning against top defenses like the Grizzlies (and potentially the Spurs or Heat down the road) will be easier if the workload is distributed more evenly.
• Kendrick Perkins gets in a quick workout. We exit the most entertaining first-round series of the 2013 playoffs with a goofy moment from Perkins, who played just four minutes on Friday night, tallying two turnovers, one foul, one technical foul and no other stats.
As the Rockets cruised out to their fast start, Perkins did his best to muck up the momentum, setting and holding a screen on Francisco Garcia before getting into a woofing conversation that required the usual intervention from teammates and the referees. To truly underscore the intensity, though, Perkins got down and did at least four push-ups on the court. Take a look.
Who else but Perkins would do this? Did the push-ups have any function other than making observers laugh? Who knows, as he was removed shortly thereafter and the Rockets didn’t really cool off until the second quarter. Oh well. Might as well work up a lather before heading back to the bench.
“Against Memphis, he’s going to get every minute he deserves,” Brooks said of Perkins, while praising his starting center for not pouting when he didn’t play at all during the second half. Indeed, Perkins’ paint-clogging presence will be far more valuable against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph than it was against Omer Asik and a bunch of small lineups.