Lost In The Loss, Thunder Win Division
By Randy Renner
The Thunder lost a game they probably should have won and lost in the disappointment of giving away a game in Houston is another division title for Oklahoma City.
When the Portland Trail Blazers lost to the Phoenix Suns the Blazers were eliminated from the race giving the Thunder their fourth straight Northwest Division Championship and the chance to hang another banner from the rafters of The Peake.
Kevin Durant also extended his amazing streak of 25 point games to 40, tying the mark set by Michael Jordan in the 1986-87 season, the longest such streak in the NBA in the last 50 years.
KD struggled with his shot in last night's 111-107 loss and didn't hit the 25 point mark until the final seconds of the game, but hit it he did. He finished with 28 points on 7-for-19 shooting and was just 3-for-9 in the fourth quarter.
Not surprising Durant talked more of disappointment then excitement after the final buzzer.
"We lost the game, that's all I'm worried about," he said. "So I don't care, we lost."
The loss wipes out a lot of the good feelings of beating San Antonio to tighten the race for the top playoff seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs magic number for clinching the best record is down to four now. Any combination of Spurs wins and Thunder losses secures the top spot for San Antonio.
And don't forget the Thunder haven't quite wrapped up that second spot yet. The Los Angeles Clippers are just two games back in the standings, but three behind in that all important loss column. The Thunder will play the Clippers in LA on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday, perhaps with second place squarely on the line.
So now back to the disappointment.
The Thunder had taken control of the game with a nice third quarter but as has happened other times this season, a bad fourth quarter turned things back to the Rockets.
The sad thing about it was the Thunder held the Rockets to just 27.8 percent shooting in the fourth quarter. Generally that's gonna be stout enough to get a win.
But the Thunder didn't shoot much better (36.8 percent) and when they defended the Rockets they committed the ultimate sin too many times, fouling a 3-point shooter.
And the Rockets, one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the NBA, made the Thunder pay dearly.
"We fouled three shooters in the fourth quarter and that's not what we need to do," said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks.
The Rockets shot 20 (TWENTY) free throws in the fourth quarter and made 15 of them. OKC was 7-for-8 at the line in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder shot 20 free throws the entire game and made 18.
James Harden by himself shot as many free throws as the entire Thunder team, he finished 17-for-20 at the line.
Instead of challenging the Rockets at the rim, who were without Dwight Howard, the Thunder launched 31 threes.
The difference at the foul line and in shot selection did in the Thunder last night.
Reggie Jackson attacked the rim against the Spurs, against the Rockets he took five 3s and made just one. He was 2-for-2 at the line. The Spurs had no answer for Jackson's attack the night before. The Rockets didn't need an answer last night.
One of the bigger bright spots for the Thunder was the play of Serge Ibaka. What a night he had, with 27 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots. Who knows how many shots he altered or prevented all together just with his presence. He also had four assists, which ties a career high in that category. The 27 points also ties a career-high.
"Serge has really stepped this year," Brooks said after the game. "Not only as a player but just his understanding of the game. I thought he was really impactful on both ends of the floor."
But the bottom line on this one was the Thunder sending the Rockets to the line way too many times and not being aggressive enough on offense to get there themselves.
"We didn't do a good job throughout the night of defending without fouling," Brooks admitted.
The Thunder flew on to Phoenix after the game and will watch today's Final Four together in a hotel ballroom.
As many of you are aware by now, the Thunder have three players Caron Butler, Jeremy Lamb and Hasheem Thabeet who went to school at UConn plus trainer Joe Sharpe who was on the training staff there. And Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie played for the Thunder.
Then it will be back to business Sunday when the Thunder play the Suns in the second game of this four game road trip.