The Rockets began this series with the Thunder by falling behind three games to none, with a deer-in-the-headlights Game 1 preceding two very winnable games in Games 2 and 3. No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series, and to expect an 8 seed like the Rockets to become the first is virtually implausible.
But that doesn't mean we can't savor every minute that took place and continues to take place from the beginning of Game 4 this past Monday night through the final buzzer of whatever game ends this wild ride.
And yes, the ride was officially ratcheted up to "WILD" Wednesday night as the Rockets rode the hot hand of James Harden and Kevin Durant's placing himself on the side of a milk carton for the entire fourth quarter to an improbable 107-100 win in Game 5, sending the series back to Houston this Friday night for Game 6.
There were winners and losers last night. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
4. Omer Asik Trailing 92-82 with 6:22 remaining in the game, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks decided to employ the old Hack-a-Shaq intentional foul tactic on Rockets center Omer Asik. Depending on who you talked to, it was either called Hack-Asik or Hack-a-Turk (Kevin McHale's name for it). Most Rocket fans just called it punk ass. At any rate, the Thunder continually sent Asik to the line because a) Asik is a notorious brick mason from the line and b) they couldn't stop the Rockets any other way. Asik answered by going 8 for 12 on six possessions, which is how you say "Shove it up your ass, Brooks" in fluent Hack-Asik.
(SIDE BAR #1: I'm not a big fan of Shaquille O'Neal, the studio analyst, but it was absolutely phenomenal that he finally had something he could sink his teeth into topically on Wednesday night. "Shaq, teams used to foul you because you sucked balls at free throw shooting. What's going through Omer Asik's mind here?")
(SIDE BAR #2: I was really hoping Kevin McHale would send Asik to the line to shoot the technical foul shot when Durant got teed up in the final minute of the game. Would've been the ultimate "fuck you" to Scott Brooks.)
3. James Harden Up until Wednesday night, this series had been a nightmare for Harden. The return home to the city he in which he started his NBA career had yielded a four game shooting percentage of 36 percent from the field and 16 percent from three point range, making it the worst homecoming since Janice Soprano returned to Jersey in Season 2 of The Sopranos. Wednesday night was vintage efficient Harden: 10 of 16 from the field with an astounding 7 of 9 from distance, many of them timed perfectly at a time when it felt like Oklahoma City was about to make a run. This was the statement game everyone has been waiting for from Harden.
2. Francisco Garcia The trade with Sacramento back at deadline time was ostensibly done to bring in Thomas Robinson and see if the number five pick in the 2012 draft could develop under the watchful eye of a Hall of Fame big man like Kevin McHale, and that may still happen. Garcia was a throw-in salary dump that the Rockets had to take to get Robinson. Now he's become one of their five most important players in the series, shooting 45 percent from distance and providing as decent an effort as you can on Kevin Durant at the defensive end, considering he's about five inches shorter.
1. Daryl Morey Bill Simmons put it best:
James Harden outscored Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb 31-3.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 2, 2013
Kevin Martin/Kendrick Perkins combined '12-13 salaries: $20,740,206. Combined '12-13 salary of every Rocket that played tonight: $24,352,241
— Sean Pendergast (@SeanCablinasian) May 2, 2013
Morey's pretty good at this G.M. thing, it turns out.
4. Kevin Durant The box score will make it look like Durant did his best to carry the Thunder (11-23 from the field, 13-16 from the line, 36 points), and maybe he did. Maybe sans Russell Westbrook, this was his best. If that's the case, just know that Durant's best included a fourth quarter in which he took two shots in the first 9 1/2 minutes. TWO SHOTS. And he was on the floor the whole time. Can you name one marquee scorer who would only take two shots with his team trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter of a crucial playoff game? You can't. The gap between LeBron and Durant is much bigger than the gap between Jordan and any of the guys who played the role of "second best in the league" back in the 90's. I stand by that, and that dynamic was on display last night.
3. Scott Brooks That said, there were entire possessions throughout the second half that the Thunder would go down the floor on offense and Durant wouldn't even touch the ball. Every possession that went something like "Jackson dribbles, hands off to Sefolosha who gives to Ibaka, Ibaka with a fifteen footer...CLANK", that's a win for the Rockets. And every one of those Durant-less possessions is further fodder for anyone who thinks Scott Brooks should be fired.
2. Kendrick Perkins In honor of Perkins penchant for starting the game and then winding up with only about 15 minutes of playing time seemingly every night, I will keep this one short: what the fuck does Kendrick Perkins do that earns him a chair in a soup kitchen, much less $8 million from an NBA team? Seriously, tell me. I don't know one thing he does average, forget doing it well.
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1. Kevin Martin It's funny, in the games earlier in the series, Kevin Martin's pattern had been decidedly, well, Kevin Martin-ian, scoring efficiently early in the game and/or with the Thunder holding a big lead, and then disappearing late in games when the Thunder were barely holding on. It's what Kevin Martin does. It's what he's always done. His entire game consists of scoring meaningless points off of spot up jumpers and the occasional dribble drive where he flails his body in the air like he was shot by a sniper in the third deck. Kevin Martin, bitch ball specialist. Well, on Wednesday, he decided to cut out the middleman and just suck the entire time. 1 for 10 from the field, 0 for 6 from three point range, and trust me, there is no player in the NBA where you can be more truthful than Martin when you say "If he's not scoring, he's useless on the floor."
Non-scoring Kevin Martin is useless. Scoring Kevin Martin barely has use.
I can't wait to boo him in Game 6 Friday night.