Durant scores 42 in Thunder win over Rockets
OKLAHOMA CITY — Sometimes, you just need a little extra push, a chip on the shoulder or an enemy.
A lot of the time players invent these scenarios to motivate themselves, creating grudges or constructing controversy, real or imagined.
But sometimes the demons are all real and they show up n your building on a Tuesday night in Oklahoma City when the season seems to be going sideways.
And Patrick Beverley, face mask and all, James Harden, Francisco Garcia and the Rockets are very real.
Twice this season, the Thunder have faced an adversity unlike any other in their short time here in Oklahoma and twice Houston appeared on the schedule the very next game.
And now twice the Thunder have won in these situations, this one a 106-98 victory where there were three technical fouls, at least that many skirmishes and more emotion than divorce court.
Tuesday was the first time Russell Westbrook and Beverley, the notoriously pesky Houston guard shared the court since last season’s game two of the first round of the playoffs when Beverley ran into Westbrook’s knee, knocking Westbrook out of the playoffs and beyond. Beverley was greeted with hearty boos from the crowd during the pre-introductions and every time he touched the ball thereafter, becoming the most-hated thing in the Oklahoma City area since tornado season. Still Beverley charged at Westbrook from the beginning, in the same manner and fashion as he did last April and twice had to be separated from the Thunder’s now-healthy starting guard.
But the thing is, as bad as the Thunder have been playing (losers of two in a row and five of their past eight), Beverley with his menacing face mask might have gotten in Westbrook’s personal space, but he never did get under his skin.
Westbrook had 24 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes while Beverley had two points and two rebounds in 24 minutes.
"When I’m on the basketball court like that, I really don’t hear the crowd. I’m in character, I’m in my zone. I don’t hear what’s going on around me."
But Beverley saw it. He had to. This Thunder team had fallen out of first place in the Western Conference, giving up its five-game lead in the last eight games, hadn’t played defense of any real worth since before the All-Star break and looked lost, dazed and directionless in a road defeat to a sad, sad Laker team on Sunday.
Just like the Thunder did when they played at Houston on Jan. 16, also coming in 3-5 in their previous eight games, they got right again, and this time it was without their best perimeter defender (Thabo Sefolosha) to guard Harden and their best post defender (Kendrick Perkins) to guard Dwight Howard. The Thunder also came in having given up more than 100 points in six of the eight games since the break. Their own, personal struggle with poor play, as bad as they’ve been in three seasons.
So Westbrook owned Beverley and Kevin Durant did the same thing to anyone who stood in front of him, including a loquacious Garcia, who has a brief, communicative history with Durant, going back to the playoffs last year.
"The toughness we brought to the floor is what makes us a great team," coach Scott Brooks said. "We always find a way to stick together, whether you lose a few games or lose a few games."
Brook stuck with his team enough to get face to face with Harden after Harden took exception to Jackson running up on him. "My mom wouldn’t have been proud," Brooks said when asked what he said to Harden.
That was the team together like it hadn’t been since forever, and what was said wasn’t as impressive as what was done. In December against the Rockets, the Thunder won by 31 points. In January, after allowing 73 points in the first half to the Rockets, OKC figured it out defensively and gave up just 19 in the second half for a 104-92 victory.
Tuesday, Durant had 42 points and Serge Ibaka had 12 points and 16 rebounds while Steven Adams had eight rebounds and Caron Butler and Reggie Jackson combined for 20 points.
"I think we mostly came out like that because we lost two in a row," Durant said. "It’s a really good team over there but we were just focusing on winning a basketball game, that’s all. We didn’t want to make it three in a row, that’s what we were focusing on and trying to avoid."
And if that team over there just happens to be Houston, then so be it.
"I don’t think they’re chippy," Durant said. "They’re not a dirty team. They play hard."
The Thunder played it cool after, as they did before, suggesting Beverley and the Rockets didn’t provide any extra motivation. If that was true, the Thunder must have just found a fountain of intensity and emotion all on their own.
Not likely. Beverley, Harden and Garcia showed up and helped lead the way.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK