Midway through the third quarter, Oklahoma City Thunder‘s Russell Westbrook steals an inbound attempt from the Houston Rockets, diving out of bounds and tipping the ball to Kendrick Perkins. Perkins leads the fast break — which is completely normal — and lobs the ball to Serge Ibaka for the alley-hoop — again, completely normal thing for Perkins to do.
From that point on, the Thunder never looked back, ultimately routing the less experienced Rockets team 120-91. In a series that many think will be a lot closer than what the Thunder want, the Thunder dominated Game 1, making a statement to all doubters across the league.
Westbrook was absolutely tremendous, nearly recording a triple-double. He had 19 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in the game. Kevin Durant led the Thunder in points with 24.
The thing that should be taken from this game was the defense of the Thunder. The Rockets were discombobulated, desperate and completely out of rhythm. In James Harden’s first playoff game with the Rockets — against his former team, ironically — he was held to 20 points off of 6-19 shooting from the field.
The Thunder’s key to winning the series handily is keeping Harden in check, and last night, that is exactly what the Thunder did. Harden has had trouble shooting the ball in Oklahoma City this season. In his two games at Chesapeake Arena, he has 37 points on 9-35 shooting.
James Harden just tried to intimidate Kevin Martin by staring right into his face before K-Mart inbounded the ball. Martin just laughed.
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) April 22, 2013
Harden was seemingly ineffective due to the amount of attention he was receiving from the Thunder’s defense. The next highest scorer behind Harden’s 20 points was Patrick Beverly with 11 points.
Royce Young on dailythunder.com noted the Thunder’s defensive strategy and its effectiveness throughout the game:
The Rockets clearly had problems not only containing OKC’s speed and power, but solving the Thunder’s defensive puzzle. Kevin McHale talked postgame about the Thunder’s clever defensive strategy that involved switching a lot of screens, specifically big to small, which sort of baited Houston’s ballhandlers into isolation and caused them to stop moving the ball.
Now, the question is if the Thunder can continue their great defensive play against the second highest scoring team in the league. They certainly can not become complacent in the next game against the Rockets and risk dropping Game 2. If the Thunder play the way they did in Game 1 on a consistent basis, they will be a very tough match-up for any team in the playoffs.