The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

April 28, 2013

Thunder look to complete sweep

HOUSTON —  Kevin Durant felt strange playing without injured All-Star Russell Westbrook for the first time in Game 3 against the Houston Rockets.

He did, however, enjoy handling the ball more in the point guard’s absence.

Durant’s 41 points helped the Thunder to the win on Saturday night. A victory tonight would complete the four-game sweep and send them to the second round of the playoffs.

He broke into a huge grin when asked how it felt to run the offense without Westbrook, who had season-ending knee surgery Saturday.

“I tell you, it’s fun,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing street ball again, just having the ball in my hands all the time and initiating the offense.”

The Rockets, of course, didn’t share Durant’s delight in having the ball more. Durant scored 27 points before halftime on Saturday as Oklahoma City built a huge lead.

Houston coach Kevin McHale alternated defenders Chandler Parsons and Francisco Garcia to try to slow him down, but knows they’ll have to do better if they expect to win tonight.

“It’s more difficult,” McHale said of dealing with Durant with Westbrook out. “But when he does give it up  to you’ve got to deny him and try to keep him from getting it. I thought (Garcia) did a better job of that. Chandler’s got to do a better job of that. When he does finally give it up — thank goodness — letting him get it right back is not a very good option for us.”

Though Durant tied a career high for points in the playoffs on Saturday night, he wasn’t satisfied with his work. He had four turnovers in that game, which was his high in this postseason.

“I’ve got to make better decisions,” he said. “I turned the ball over a few times and I think I should have made stronger passes. But it’s a learning process so I’ve got to continue to keep working at it.”

Coach Scott Brooks acknowledged his staff was scrambling to adjust after Westbrook’s injury and that they’ll make some minor tweaks for Game 4.

“We don’t want to change everything and throw so many things at guys and expect them to pick things up,” he said. “We just want to do a few things. As the playoffs go on we can adjust more on the fly.”

The Thunder are focused on staying aggressive after being up by double digits in each of the past two games only to have Houston fight back to go on top in the fourth quarter.

Still, Durant said the team’s ability to close out both of those games after losing the lead also shows the maturity of the Thunder.

McHale is proud of his young team for fighting back in the past two games. Tonight, he hopes the Rockets can get off to a good start so they don’t find themselves playing catch-up the whole game.

“The last couple of games we put ourselves in position to win,” McHale said. “(Tonight) we’ve got to put ourselves over the top and make them make big, big plays down the stretch.”

The Rockets lament their missed chances in the past two games, but say the close calls gave them confidence that they can beat this team. They’re undaunted by the fact that no NBA team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.

“Eventually someone’s going to do it,” Parsons said. “So we’ve got a perfect opportunity to go out here and shock the world.”

Houston could be without point guard Jeremy Lin tonight. He missed the second half of Game 2 after bruising his chest muscle before returning on Saturday night. But he was largely ineffective in about 18 minutes and finished with just two points.

Lin said he was hurting on Sunday and didn’t know if he’d be ready for toniht..

“That’s a big decision for us to make,” McHale said. “I know Jeremy really wants to play, but he could not do a lot of stuff last night. We’re going to have to wait and see, because it doesn’t do any good for him to play if he can’t help us.”

Though Durant carried the team on Saturday night, the Thunder also got a big contribution from Serge Ibaka, who finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

In the days leading up to Game 3, Brooks discussed the need for everyone to do a little more to make up for Westbrook being out. Ibaka did just that, making key plays down the stretch to help Oklahoma City secure the win.

“Serge had some very big moments last night, just his presence around the basket, his offensive rebounds, his shot-making ability,” Brooks said. “He’s understanding the game much more as the years have gone by ... his game last night, if we didn’t have it it would have been a tough game for us to win.”

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