HOUSTON – James Harden sat on the bench, waiting for his time to re-enter and nail a knife to the Oklahoma City Thunder playoff hopes. When 9:14 minutes were missing, he got off the bench and jogged to see how Alex Abrines was, who finished with an and-1 to put the Thunder four. The Houston Rockets asked for time to run out and Harden came back inside. First possession, one step back 3 over Paul George.
The feeling in the sand was tangible, the kind of feeling that has defined this Rockets season and effectively signed, sealed and delivered the MVP to Harden. Here comes Harden, and there goes the Thunder again.
Without Andre Roberson, who is a known Harden plug (or as much of one as he may exist on this planet), George has taken the main task, but went to the bank shortly after Harden's 3 for a break Quick. Russell Westbrook took over the task, probably just spelling George until he could return. But Westbrook, who infuriates some with his tantalizing but very inconsistent defensive ability, set him up. And when George returned after about a minute, Westbrook told him not to change. The reigning MVP was taking the expected MVP.
"When the game is at stake, I knew what I had to do," Westbrook said. "I told Paul and Corey [Brewer] to take someone else.
He fought for every screen, he would jump down the aisles and frustrate Harden. He unleashed a 9-0 run for the Thunder to go up eight in the middle of the quarter, which included a Westbrook 3, a Westbrook layup and a Westbrook steal, and pbaded to George for two free throws.
Russell Westbrook hits the ball out of bounds and then steals it from James Harden in the 4th quarter.
Their backs against the playoff wall on the road against the best team in the NBA, Westbrook answered the call, as he has often found a way to make for the franchise in the last two years. It was not a nice line, 24 points in 10 of 28 shots, 7 rebounds and 10 badists, but it was all the Thunder needed to get a 108-102 victory.
"Better not to lose". "George said about the mentality of the Thunder." That's it. Better not lose. We control our destiny at this point, but we have to have the mentality that we need these victories. We have to go out and play our game, and that's always been good enough for us. "
The Thunder season has been defined by moments of confusion, strange losses and tough rebounds. They attributed them the possibility of being, or they thought they were, but they do have star power and the ability to show something special in a 48 minute interval.They are now 6-3 against the three best teams in the NBA (Rockets , Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors), the best brand of all against those teams.
"We are united for that reason," said Carmelo Anthony. "Thinking about the big picture. We had some bruises and bruises along the way, but we know what we have to do, what to expect, the level of concentration we have to have when we close the regular season in the postseason. Tonight, we show it. Our level of concentration tonight was incredible. The last two or three days, even in practice, we had incredible days, and when you have days like that, it comes down to real games. "
The Rockets are one of the most dangerous teams in the league when it comes to getting there But in a rare event, the Thunder kept them from reaching the line in the fourth quarter, while OKC outscored the Rockets by 13 points from the line in what was ultimately a six-point victory.
"They did a good job," Harden said. "We missed shots. Nothing changes for us. "
|Quarters 1-3||13/16 (81.2%)||16/23 (69.6%)|
|Fourth 4||13/17 (76.5%)||0/0 (-)|
|HOU J. Harden: 9/12 FTs (all in the first 3 quarters)|
The way they played against the Rockets, A team already positioned and reaching the playoffs, notice, was what the Thunder has stopped in the mirror and repeated throughout the season: it's there, and they can be something, they just have to do it. they're made for the postseason, and at least at one extreme, it was exactly that, the Thunder had to have this game, and with the win, they've set a stage where they punch a ticket to the postseason with one more victory, either in the Miami Heat or at home against the Memphis Grizzlies on the last day of the season.
What has plagued OKC in recent weeks has been a fall Shocking shooting, that is, for George who traditionally reaches some peaks and valleys throughout the season. But after questioning his mechanics and saying that his shot felt "funny", George showed up at the Toyota Center on Friday night after the Thunder arrived in Houston, with one of the team managers, Wilson Taylor, doing arrangements to let him in. The security guard opened the building for George, and only in the practice yard adjacent to the arena around 8:30 p.m., George spent an hour or so alone in the gym that he just fired.
It seemed to work, at least momentarily, when George drilled a step back 3 with his first shot on Saturday. Maybe part of the hard work karma was mixed, too, with George being blessed with a 3 banqueado soon after. He finished with 24 points in no big, 6 of 17 shots, including 3 of 7 from 3, but dropped a critical cross at the beginning of the quarter and scored 9 of 10 from the free throw. line, with some to freeze late.
Then there was Carmelo Anthony, who became the target of many of the Thunder's fights and finished with a solid 22 in 7 of 14 shots. But that included losing his last six shots and compensating him by knocking down a pair of critical free throws. Everything was somewhat metaphorical for the three greats of the Thunder: it was not pretty, it was not impressive, but it was enough. They combined for 70 of the Thunder's 108 points but on 23 of 59 shots. But that's not what it was about. It was about keeping Houston with 19 points in the fourth quarter.
"When we have a complete game in which everyone feels they are part of the game," Anthony said. "We have results like we did tonight."
It felt like the Thunder's survival, but that's what it's about. They have gone from dreaming of dominating the West with talent until they find a way to enter. They entered Houston loose and energetic, dancing before the game and joking. They just have to push away the idea that they are pushing, but as the clock ran out and a 10-point lead slipped to seven, then to five, you could feel Thunder praying for it to end. They found a way, and at this point, that's all they can do.