Last night the Thunder suffered a pretty tough loss to the Houston Rockets, being outscored 13-1 to close the game and losing by one. This also happened after the Thunder went through a stretch on offense where they looked completely unstoppable.
James Harden led the way essentially running point for the first nine minutes of the quarter. The Thunder scored nine straight possessions with him running the show. With around three minutes left the Thunder went away from Harden. Scott Brooks said it was because the Rockets changed up their defense.
The Rockets did do this sending two players at Harden before Kendrick Perkins could come up to set a screen. It forced Harden into two tough plays having to take on two defenders and try and split them with the dribble.
So Brooks went back to the Thunder’s bread and butter, the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook pick-and-pop action. It did not go well down the stretch with Westbrook committing a few costly turnovers and Durant missing the final shot.
Most will argue that the Thunder should have stuck with Harden but I feel he didn’t have anything left in the tank, in terms of fatigue and his repertoire.
Harden is great and I love him to death and even have called him the best player in the NBA to my friends when I get really excited watching him but there is not a lot of variance in his game. He is a great three-point shooter and penetrated off the pick-and-roll. When he drives he can hurt you with the finish drawing fouls and the pass. He doesn’t have much of a midrange game though and working within a stagnant fourth quarter Thunder offense, his moves ran out.
I like the Brooks saw this and tried to go to Durant-Westbrook but it may have even been too late. I think this is one of the hardest jobs of NBA coaches deciding when to go away from the bench if they are playing hot and return to your star starters.
I think it is almost always best to go back to your starters. One of the reasons the Thunder win games is because they are so great at closing games out whether it be with Durant or Westbrook. Harden is there too sometimes but more often for the stretch when Durant and Westbrook are out and he can carry the Thunder offense.
I am all for Harden running some point down the stretch but he ran the same thing for about ten straight trips down the floor. Any defense will adjust some to that and it was just unfortunate that the Thunder could not hang on to their lead after the Rockets did adjust.
I don’t blame Brooks for getting caught up in Harden’s hot hand as point and maybe sticking with it a little too long and I don’t blame Brooks for trying to go back to Durant and Westbrook. It really was just a weird loss and something the Thunder shouldn’t be too worried about.