They claimed Tuesday’s difference had nothing to do with the opponent. They claimed that Patrick Beverley’s annoying presence and play didn’t fire them up and spark a much-needed defensive turnaround. The Thunder, to a man, claimed that the inspired performance we saw inside Chesapeake Energy Arena had everything to do with them and nothing to do with the Houston Rockets, a rising Western Conference contender and the hottest team in basketball over the past month and a half. “We was already ready to go,” insisted Russell Westbrook following the Thunder’s impressive 106-98 win. “I mean, we lost two in a row.” How about we just say facing the feisty Rockets didn’t hurt? After a string of disappointing defensive efforts over the past three weeks, including two straight weekend road losses at Phoenix and against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Thunder reverted to a more familiar clamp-down style and put an end to Houston’s five-game winning streak. The transformation took place the moment Beverley reignited the bad blood between these two teams midway through the opening period. In a similar fashion to the questionable play from Game 2 of last year’s postseason series, the Rockets’ point guard banged his body against Westbrook as he was motioning for a timeout near the Thunder’s bench. In their first meeting since that April night, it took just six minutes for the two to have to be separated. But the incident immediately inspired the Thunder even more. Kevin Durant responded by scoring eight straight Thunder points to help OKC turn a four-point deficit into a two-point lead. He contributed 10 of his game-high 42 points in those final six minutes of the period to give the Thunder a 26-24 lead entering the second quarter, and OKC turned up the defensive intensity to keep the run-and-gun Rockets in check the rest of the first half.
Commitment to defense lifts Thunder past Rockets, 106-98
The Oklahoman | Mar 12