OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks called timeout and immediately went hunting for referee Bill Kennedy. Showing the kind of first step and fire he had in 1994, when he played point guard for the Rockets, Brooks had appeared to have a serious problem with the current Houston point man.
"Don't let him do that sh--!" he repeated.
Patrick Beverley didn't budge as Brooks bellowed at Kennedy, as things appeared close to boiling over between the two teams. Things simmered before anything got out of hand, but it was yet another episode in what seems to be a never-ending feud between the Thunder and Beverley.
"I called a timeout. I saw Beverley in his face, and you never know what can happen in this league. You can get some surprises at times," Brooks said. "It was a little word for Bill [Kennedy]. I don't know, I don't know what was going on. I was trying to separate our guys to get back. But it's part of the game. Just called timeout and tried to regroup."
The Thunder have a well-documented history with the noted irritant Beverley, dating back to 2013, when he ended Russell Westbrook's postseason in a collision on the sideline as Westbrook signaled for a timeout. It's something on the minds of both teams as they play, and it's something that serves as an omnipresent shadow every time there's a hard foul, trash talk or small skirmish.
"We haven't had any altercations," Reggie Jackson said of Beverley. "Of course, back when he hurt Russ, unfortunately, that happened, but we still hold that near and dear, so I think that's why these two teams still battle."
In a game that saw both teams scoring fewer than 70 points -- Rockets 69, Thunder 65 -- and both teams shooting below 30 percent, the contentious nature of it kept an otherwise putrid game not just intense but also enthralling. It wasn't like watching a car accident; it was like watching the train wreck behind the car accident.
"This is what basketball is -- just competition and a little trash talk," Beverley said. "This team doesn't bring it out in me. I just have fun and play basketball."
Beverley is well aware of his reputation in the league and doesn't shy from encouraging trash talk from courtside fans. Each time he stepped to the scorers' table and heard something from the crowd, Beverley looked up and said two simple words: "Thank you."
"I embrace it," he said. "You hear it from the fans, sure. You see it all on Twitter, yes. I hear it and use it for motivation. Last year at this time, I would get hot-headed and get out of my game. This year, I've learned from the past. I kept my emotions down and kept my team in it."
Theatrics aside, Beverley's dogged defense on the Thunder's backcourt is ultimately what proved to be the difference. There was no offensive continuity, as each basket the Thunder stumbled into seemed to be almost by accident. Jackson shot just 3-of-11 with four turnovers, Jeremy Lamb only got off five shots, and Sebastian Telfair finished 3-of-9. The Thunder performed admirably yet again in the face of adversity but were unable to execute in any way down the stretch as they dropped to 3-8 without Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
"We're going to have to figure out ways to score down the stretch," Brooks said. "It's going to be a little choppy at times. We just gotta compete and play on the defensive end and give ourselves a chance."
That's what the Thunder have consistently done: Give themselves a chance. Regardless of the quality of the opponent, they've remained competitive in seven of their eight losses. But there's a cutting edge missing, primarily in crunch time, as they scour for decent shots. Down three with 20 seconds left, Jackson, who is intent on auditioning to be a starter for someone, launched a 30-foot 3 instead of executing the designed play.
"We should have got a better look," Brooks said. "But these are experiences [Jackson] is learning on the fly. He's played well for us, and he's going to continue to play well for us. But probably a shot that was created off the dribble penetration or and-1 for him or a kickout 3 would've been better."
There was a certain awkwardness to the shot, especially within the context of Jackson's comments about desperately wanting the opportunity to take them. He hasn't been shy in making known his desire to be a starting guard, and fresh off missing a potential game-winner against the Detroit Pistons on Friday, he almost seemed intent on heaving at all costs.
"Got a switch out with Dwight [Howard]. There was a little confusion," Jackson said. "He was a few steps back, and I was comfortable with the shot. At the same time, with how much time was on the clock, I could have attacked ... I felt real comfortable with it, and I thought it was going in."
Brooks and the Thunder have cited grit and determination a lot in the recent weeks -- as they should -- but the proof is in the scoreboard, and the Thunder have fallen short on that more often than not. In the past two seasons, their eighth loss has come on Jan. 7, some two months later than this year. The effort is there, and the fight -- literally -- is, too. But the wins just aren't coming, and as the Thunder fall further behind the chains in the West, there's legitimate concern about their postseason prospects.
"Right now, we've got too much for us to think about for us to dive into that question," Brooks said. "We want to improve the group we have. Our guys will be back. We definitely want to win some games along the way ... but we're not looking at the playoffs. We're just focusing on today."