After losing a nail-biting, one point battle less than twenty-four hours before, the Thunder flew back to Oklahoma City from Houston, where one of this year’s most successful and surprising conference teams waited.
Fatigue showed early, as game tempo never reached fast-paced action and both teams struggled to convert transition buckets. But they both eventually settled into a defensive-based, ball possession control contest. After a sluggish first quarter in which the Thunder quickly fell behind 10-2, they ended it on a 21-9 run led by Westbrook’s 4 assists and Durant’s first 7 points of the contest resulting in a 23-19 lead. Scott Brooks rallied the players on the sideline and encouraged his guys to-
“Stop acting so &^%$@ tired & increase the tempo! We have to swing the ball much quicker if you want any shot in hell (to win) tonight!”
This initial quarter also showed the early signs of a game-long battle between Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. Paul, a 3-time Western Conference All-Star and perennial NBA leader in both assists & steals, was outperformed tonight by a more aggressive Westbrook. #0 is a budding superstar who seems driven to of achieve similar accolades as CP3, beginning with his first All-Star nomination in the current 2010-11 voting. Westbrook finished with 25, 11 assists & 5 steals. Paul with a similar, respectable 17, 11 assists & 5 steals as well.
In the 2nd quarter, Jeff Green and Serge Ibaka added to team productivity in different, but equally important ways. Green converted 3-3 on his long-range attempts and Ibaka chipped in on the defensive side with 3 blocked shots and several clutch first half rebounds. The most important stat of the night that’s not box score notable is that the Thunder outscored the Hornets by 15 points while Ibaka was on the court. Important in last night’s one point loss, the Rockets outscored the Thunder by 5 points while Ibaka was subbed in, even though he went a perfect 7-7 on FG attempts. The late flurry of OKC scores led to a 50-48 score in favor of the Thunder.
For the Hornets, David West continually used his strength advantage over Green to create easy looks for his patented “turn-around” fade-away in the post and “Dribble-drive hooks” in the paint. West’s front-court scoring led the Hornets on a 11-6 run to take a 59-56 lead with over 7 minutes to play in the 3rd. Chris Paul’s domination of the Thunder’s second team led to a game-high 14 assists and Trevor Ariza’s smothering defense on Green and Durant (at times) led to a 17-7 run for NOLA and a 70-68 lead going into the fourth.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Hornets tried to cling onto a 76-70 lead with under 8 minutes remaining but were outplayed down the stretch by a more aggressive, determined OKC squad. The dagger in the Hornets heart was the overall scoring discrepancy of 27-19 in favor of OKC, derived from a 6 minute NOLA FG drought in which David West and the Thunder surged to a 88-81 lead with 1:38 remaining.
Durant continued to add on to his MVP-caliber season and subsequent scoring title with a game-high 26 points on 7-22 shooting, 11 boards (tying Ibaka for game-high), while draining 14-15 of his free throw attempts.
After this victory, the Thunder improved to 12-6 and 6th in the Western Conference. Coming up next for the Thunder are all less-challenging games starting Wednesday at New Jersey, then Friday vs. the Toronto Raptors.
About the Author
Written by Austin DeJarnette
I'm a 25 year old recent graduate of The University of Oklahoma. I currently live in Tulsa, OK and am a self-admitted sports nut. I'm an avid baseball, football and basketball fan and love going to see live music. I love Sooner football and basketball, as well as NBA Western Conference, NFL football, MLB baseball and love attending home-games of the OKC Thunder.