The Oklahoma City Thunder are capable of on-court streaks that no team can match. Anyone wondering how they overwhelmed the Houston Rockets en route to a 120-91 Game 1 victory need look no further than the last five minutes of the second quarter, when the Thunder unleashed a scoring binge that even the Miami Heat at full strength would be hard-pressed to match.
From a 40-all tie at the 5:05 mark of the period, OKC’s starting lineup piled up 20 points on 13 possessions. It could have been worse, as the Thunder missed three free throws over that stretch and committed one foolish turnover.
They held the Rockets to seven points over that span, which sent them into intermission with a 60-47 lead that would only grow in the second half.
Though the third and fourth quarters featured several highlight-worthy plays, the game was decided in that 5:05 to close out the half. Here were a few ways in which those minutes served as a microcosm for the Thunder’s superlative performance.
Scoring Balance: Scott Brooks used his normal starting lineup to end the second period, and he deserves credit for sticking with a combination that has earned him derision from the blogosphere but has grown in effectiveness over the course of the season.
That lineup operated at its peak during this vaunted 5:05, as all five members scored and four different players caused Houston turnovers.
Most encouraging to Brooks and the Thunder coaching staff had to be their team’s lack of reliance on Kevin Durant. The three-time scoring champion sat back and facilitated for the first 18 points of the surge, providing the exclamation point with a 16-foot jumper just before the halftime buzzer.
Durant led all scorers with a quiet 24 points on just 15 field goal attempts. Both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin attempted 15 shots of their own, and the Thunder clearly decided that ball movement was the key to overcoming Houston’s plethora of long-armed wing defenders. As they showed in the last four games of last season’s Western Conference Finals, a Thunder team that commits to moving the ball is close to unbeatable.
Big-Play Defense: Like a football unit that allows first downs but no touchdowns, the Thunder showed a commitment to protecting the most valuable territory. During the critical second-quarter closing stretch, they drew one charge, blocked a layup, and stole the ball three times.
For the game, OKC recorded nine blocks, to Houston’s one. Six different players blocked at least one Rocket shot, and Houston shot 6-16 from four feet or closer, as they appeared spooked by the Thunder’s athleticism.
Little Game James: All-Star James Harden’s ballyhooed return to his first NBA home ended with a whimper, as he managed only 20 points on 6-19 field goal shooting. His line during the game-turning 5:05: 4 points, 1-3 field goals, 1 turnover.
Obviously Houston’s scoring struggles went beyond Harden, but he clearly didn’t have the help he needed. Former teammate Durant did, and that’s why his team could be ready to make short work of what appeared tonight to be an overmatched opponent.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.