Woodward, Okla. —
By Michael Kinney
CNHI News Service
OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook is an emotional player. The Oklahoma City guard believes he plays his best when he is being attacked.
Houston tested that belief Wednesday in Game 2 of their first-round series at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Rockets pushed Westbrook and his teammates to the brink and came close to pulling off the upset, but the Thunder pushed back to earn a 105-102 victory.
“It’s fun,” Westbrook said. “During this time of the year, the team has one goal and can’t let nobody get in the way. That’s how I feel. That’s how I want my team to respond as well.”
After winning the opener in a blowout, the Thunder (2-0) expected a better effort from the Rockets (0-2), and they got it.
Oklahoma City built a 15-point fourth-quarter lead with eight minutes left in the game. But the Rockets went on a 21-2 run to take a 95-91 lead.
The Thunder looked like they were worn out and out of sync. But Kevin Durant wasn’t done. He drained a 3-pointer to give Oklahoma City a 98-97 advantage. Houston’s Chandler Parsons missed a 3-pointer and the Thunder got the rebound.
Durant got the ball at the top of the key and drove into the middle of the lane, and the Rockets converged on him. Instead of forcing up a shot, he passed out to a wide-open Thabo Sefolosha, who knocked down the 3-pointer with 1:01 on the clock.
Houston’s James Harden hit one of two at the line to close the gap to three points, but Serge Ibaka hit a long jumper to push the lead back to five. Oklahoma City fouled Harden again, and he made a pair from the charity stripe with 14 seconds left.
With the Thunder leading 103-100, Kevin Martin went to the line and hit one of two free throws with 11 second left. Houston used up the rest of the time to get a layup, but it wasn’t enough, as Oklahoma City held on for the win.
“We had a few opportunities to lead in that game in the last three or four minutes, to capitalize on a couple of buckets,” Harden said. “We didn’t.”
Durant led the Thunder with 29 points on 10-for-25 shooting to go along with nine assists. Westbrook also scored 29 points, despite playing on a gimpy knee. Ibaka scored 12 points to go with six blocked shots and 11 rebounds. Martin came off the bench to add 10 points and was 3 for 7 from behind the arc.
However, the Thunder were outrebounded 57-40 by a Rockets team that played with a smaller lineup much of the night.
“It doesn’t add up, other than it did add up,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “They got the rebounds. That is something we have talked about all year. We can’t be the bigger team and be the team that gives up 19 rebounds offensively.”
Harden posted 36 points on only 9-for-24 shooting. But he was 17 for 20 from the charity stripe. He also collected 11 rebounds and six assists. Parsons scored 17 points while rookie Patrick Beverley added 16 points and 12 rebounds in his first start. He also had six assists and two steals.
The Thunder lead the best-of-seven series 2-0. Game 3 is Saturday in Houston.
“It’s frustrating, but at the same time, we know that we can do something,” Beverley said. “We know we can build from that when we play in Houston the next game.”
The game got heated midway through the second quarter when Westbrook banged knees with Beverley and had to be helped off the court. Westbrook and Francisco Garcia exchanged words when he came back into the game and had to be led away from the Rockets bench.
Westbrook continued to go after Beverley on both ends of the court, but the rookie didn’t back down. Westbrook picked up his third foul when he was called for throwing an elbow at Beverley.
Despite the Thunder shooting 50 percent from the field, Houston stayed close by dominating on the boards in the first half with a 26-18 advantage. Beverley had six boards while Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka combined for six total.
Oklahoma City only led 57-55 at halftime.
Jeremy Lin had a strong first half for the Rockets with seven points, four rebounds and three assists, but a right chest contusion kept him from playing in the second half.
Houston took a 63-61 advantage before the Thunder went on a 14-0 run with Westbrook leading the charge.
But once again, the Rockets closed the gap and trailed 78-72 heading into the fourth quarter.
“They threw that zone at us, which I think caught us off-guard,” Durant said. “But we stayed aggressive. One thing I tried to do was stay aggressive to score and to pass. It was a good win.”
Despite leading the league for a third straight season in blocked shots, Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, which was announced Wednesday.
Memphis center Marc Gasol received 212 points and 30 first-place votes to edge Miami’s LeBron James, who had 149 points and 18 first-place votes. Ibaka collected 122 points and 14 first-place votes.
Ibaka ended the regular season with 242 total blocked shots, 36 more than second-place Larry Sanders. Gasol was 10th with 136.
Ibaka finished second to Tyson Chandler for the award last season.
The Thunder have come up short in all three awards the NBA has handed out so far. Tuesday, Kevin Martin came in third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting and Ibaka was 10th in the Most Improved category.
“I’m not hating, but the NBA just give awards away,” Thunder teammate Kendrick Perkins tweeted. “Serge don’t get defensive player of the year. That don’t make any sense. That is Terrible. Too many politics.”
Coach Scott Brooks didn’t get into whether Ibaka should have won the award, but he said his team is full of players who could make the all-defensive squad.
“I think he’s going to be considered a candidate every year,” Brooks said. “We expect and he delivers on the defensive end for us. I feel like we have a team full of defenders. They all should be considered. I don’t pay much attention to who gets it, I just know our guys are focused on doing things as a team.”
Fisher on Kobe: Before the Thunder were even conceived, Derek Fisher was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. The veteran guard won five titles with the franchise, alongside Kobe Bryant. So when he got the news of Bryant’s season-ending injury two weeks ago, it hit him hard.
“We’ve been in contact,” Fisher said. “I think whether you like him or not in terms of a basketball fan, I think we are all impacted in some way with what happened to him. As far as I’m concerned, if there is any person that’s every played the game or been involved in sports that can come back from such a devastating injury, in his mid 30s, (Kobe) would be the person I’d pick to come back and set the example for how to do it.”
Frustrated Lin: After hurting his shoulder in Game 2, Houston’s Jeremy Lin didn’t sound too confident that he would make it to Game 3 Saturday in Houston.
“This is easily the most frustrating thing that has happened this season,” Lin said. “I’ve been healthy the whole season and the second half of a playoff game on the road where we are playing well; yeah, it’s frustrating. I’m supposed to see what happens (today). I don’t know, we will see how it feels. As long as this stuff stops spasming, I’m good.”