Desperation Wins, If You're the Oklahoma City Thunder
By A. Suave Francisco
Desperation was the main word surrounding Oklahoma City's road matchup against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night. With three games left, it's no secret that the bottom half of the NBA's Western Conference playoff picture is an absolute war zone right now. There are only 1.5 games separating the No. 4 and No. 9 seeds, so each game holds significant weight.
The Thunder did rise to the occasion, defeating the league-leading Rockets 108-102, snapping their 20-game home winning streak.
It wouldn't have happened without Jerami Grant's contributions off the bench. Grant, who played with an abundance of desperation was OKC's saving grace, providing not only 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting but five rebounds and two blocks that came at the perfect time for the Thunder.
The other player that notably matched Grant's defensive intensity was MVP, Russell Westbrook. In the fourth quarter at least, his defense on this season's MVP favorite, James Harden was rivaled by only his injured teammate and defensive perfectionist, Andre Roberson. Granted, Harden had a spectacular night, but only through three quarters.
Harden checked back into the game at the 9:14 mark of the final quarter. Westbrook checked in at 8:31. From that moment on, it was a battle of best friends dating back to their days in South Central, Los Angeles. However, it wasn't much of a battle. Westbrook's defense lived up to his Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year accolades from college, holding Harden to 0-of-2 shooting and two turnovers in the final 8:31 of the game, essentially disarming the entire team.
This was a team effort, though. Although Westbrook stepped up when it mattered most and Grant stepped up for the reserves, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George had a spectacular game as well. It's felt like ages since all three members of the big three collectively had elite games and it all started with Melo. The 15-year veteran has struggled shooting the ball as of late, not having an above 50 percent shooting night since January but against the Rockets, he shot 7-of-14 from the field and notched 22 points. His most significant contribution was getting the Thunder off to a hot first quarter start with 14 points and after that, the team seemed to fall into place.
Of course, Houston is a great team and with that comes a fight. It got to the point where it looked like the Rockets may pull away from OKC, especially in the third quarter but that desperation kicked back in and the playoff-hungry Thunder stepped up their play on both ends of the floor to come up with a victory.
Every member of the big three scored at least 20 points tonight.
- Russell Westbrook: 24 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and four steals.
- Paul George: 24 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
- Carmelo Anthony: 22 points and six rebounds.
This was a must-win game which looked very ominous for the Thunder coming in, but after seeing the desperation they were playing with while withstanding Houston's multiple runs, things looked very much in OKC's favor. This victory boosts the Thunder back into the sixth spot, a full game ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves for eighth place and just one more win will solidify a playoff birth. They'll have the chance to clinch on Monday on the road against the Miami Heat (43-37) who've already clinched an Eastern Conference playoff birth.
Feature photo: Zach Beeker//OKC Thunder.