OKLAHOMA CITY -- The day started with Patrick Beverley fighting for the rights of the NBA player. He was fined $25,000 on Sunday afternoon because of a confrontation with a fan on Friday night. Beverley wanted people to know you can’t disrespect him without any repercussions.
“He got fined?” Lou Williams said with a smirk. “That’s regular news for us. No, we didn’t even know that, but we have veteran guys in this locker room. We understand what type of effort we needed to win this game.”
And then the game started and the Houston Rockets were off to another one of those slow starts that drive coach Mike D’Antoni crazy. But this basketball game turned into a bar fight between Nene, a heavyweight center, and the entire front line of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and it went the way of the team wearing the black uniforms.
Houston defeated Oklahoma City 113-109 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series.
“It was kinda a man's game, and he’s a man,” D’Antoni said of Nene. “He was unbelievable in all facets. That’s Nene. It doesn’t surprise me he was able to gather up a lot of stuff and just dunk; it was terrific.”
Nene scored a playoff career-high 28 points on 12-of-12 shooting from the field, tying Larry McNeill for the most field goals without a miss in NBA postseason history.
And while Nene was battling the bigs, Rockets guards Eric Gordon and Williams were combining for 36 points. Gordon made all four of his fourth-quarter free throws; Williams added nine points and also hit all four of his fourth-quarter free throws.
D’Antoni and his staff were slowing the game down by intentionally fouling Thunder forward Andre Roberson, who had to be subbed out by coach Billy Donovan.
Rockets star James Harden, the MVP candidate, was playing with a bum ankle that he rolled Friday night in Game 3. Harden wasn’t himself as the Thunder bottled him up, but it was clear the Rockets tried to get space for him by setting screens earlier in half-court sets, and he tried to play off the ball more.
The late moments were just a mess for the Thunder, with Russell Westbrook missing two shots.
Meanwhile, Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, the veteran with a championship ring, made a slick pass to Nene for an and-1 layup with 11 seconds to play, and Nene's made free throw gave the Rockets a 111-107 lead. D’Antoni raised a fist as he walked down the sideline and looked directly at his backup center, who also made a fist. Harden and Ryan Anderson hugged Nene; Ariza punched the big man in the chest.
The Rockets were closing the deal, and fittingly, Beverley dribbled out the clock near the Thunder bench. At the final buzzer, he threw the ball toward the scoreboard and walked to the scorer's table and yelled.
“Yeah, it was one of those ugly games,” Beverley said. “It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t pretty, it’s not the type of game we’re used to playing, shooting 3s and stuff like that. It’s alright. We walked out [of] here with a big win and headed back to Houston.”
How intense was this game?
Harden pushed Adams twice going down the court. Gordon picked up a technical for complaining about not getting a foul call. Nene was, well, just doing what he’s been doing, muscling through opposing centers for rebounds and buckets. (The Thunder were the best rebounding team in the league during the regular season, but on Sunday, the Rockets outrebounded them by five.)
Every basket, rebound, cut, screen, dunk and pass was magnified.
“To me it was a normal day,” Ariza said. “Getting the win, for sure. A physical game today, but we matched their physicality and we were able to get a win. When we do that and when you exceed it, you have a chance.”
And now the Rockets head to Houston for a Game 5 opportunity to close out the series and wait for either Memphis or San Antonio. When up 3-1 in a series, Houston is 6-0 in its franchise history.
Tuesday night won’t be easy. It's never supposed to be.
“Just like they’ve done all year, they’ve stepped up,” D’Antoni said “When it seems like a little bit of problems, or if we have a bad road trip and a back-to-back that’s ridiculously hard, they’ve stepped it up. They know how to push through a lot of stuff, and anytime you have James on the floor, a closer like that, you have a chance. They know that the contributions of Nene, Lou Williams, Eric Gordon coming off the bench is huge. I thought it was a great game, just intense the way it should be played. A couple of things went our way, too.”