By KOLBY PAXTON
Growing up in Springdale, Ark., back when the town had but one public high school, our most heated rivalry was with Fayetteville High. Regardless of the sport, our games against those guys were always chippy.
We were far better at football, in particular, but it didn’t matter. Every time we played, the games were tight. They always brought something extra, trash-talked, got in our heads, hit a little harder and a little longer than we were expecting. On paper, they never belonged on the same field as us, but paper was irrelevant. It was personal, and it was as if someone forgot to mention that they weren’t supposed to win.
Right now, the Rockets are to the Thunder as Fayetteville was to Springdale.
It’s funny, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with Russell Westbrook’s intensity, always wished he would just calm down a little. Never again. With Westbrook out, not only is OKC down one of the 10 best players in the world, but the Thunder is without the source of their swagger and emotion.
I made the comment a few days ago that this series was over. As soon as the action resumed in Oklahoma City, the crowd and intensity would overwhelm Houston, I surmised. I surmised wrong. The Thunder were timid, flat and dispassionate. So much so, that the vaunted fans of Chesapeake Energy Arena slipped into a lull of their own, failing to have any noticeable affect on the road squad.
1. So, what now?
I really don’t know. I have little reason to expect an inspired effort from anyone not named Durant, Jackson, Liggins or Fisher, and the Rockets have proven emphatically that what those four have to offer is not enough to beat the youngest team in the NBA.
My double or nothing Vegas wager would, if executed objectively, ride with Harden and his running mates.
2. Done with Ibaka and Friends.
Robin goes down and all anyone wants to do is stand and stare at Batman. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. DeAndre Liggins and Reggie Jackson are doing what they can. Derek Fisher is doing 38-year old Derek Fisher things. But Serge Ibaka? The guy we chose over Harden? He’s invisible. Kevin Martin? The guy we traded Harden for? He’s been awful. Thabo Sefalosha? Kendrick Perkins? What’s a word for worse than awful?
I’m not Sam Presti — nor will I ever be — but if I was, I’d be shipping Ibaka out of town the first chance I got. That’s an enormous waste of money, and one that already cost the franchise arguably the best shooting guard in the NBA. It’s one thing to be unable to create your own shot. Blake Griffin can’t create his own shot. LaMarcus Aldridge can’t create his own shot. But that doesn’t keep them from scoring. More importantly, offensive ineptitude of any degree never stops them from rebounding.
I mention Griffin and Aldridge because, like them, Ibaka will deposit in excess of $12 million next season.
You may think I’m overreacting, but what else do you need to see? The longer the Thunder hang on to Ibaka the less valuable he becomes on the open market. If Facebook taught me anything, it’s that there’s no sense in hanging onto a stock once you realize the IPO was inflated when you bought it. Cut your losses. As for the “friends” I mentioned? See you later, Martin. Enjoy the final year of your contract, Thabo. Look up the word amnesty, Perk.
3. Fun with numbers
Harden outscored Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb 31-3. Meanwhile, Perkins managed to post a plus/minus of minus-13 despite playing just 15 minutes. In games four and five, OKC lost 1.25 points per every minute that Perkins was on the floor.
It was over when... Scott Brooks chose to have his players repeatedly foul Omer Asik, a 56 percent foul shooter, only to watch as Asik went 13-of-19 from the stripe.
Quote(s) of the Night: Brooks blew up Twitter with his hack-a-Asik gimmick. Here’s a sampling:
“@BillSimmons: Scott Brooks is making a strong run at Vinny Del Negro’s “Worst Coach Of Round One” with Hack Asik. Don’t do that crap when you’re a 1-seed.”
“@TJPerry10: I’m not a Thunder fan and I’m embarrassed to watch this hack a asik. This is a joke and bush league. #brooksucks”
“@notthefakeSVP (Scott Van Pelt): Beyond the question of if fouling was sporting or cowardly - it didn’t work. At all.”
“@SamuelLJackson: C’mon OKC! This ain’t ballin! It’s BULL[STUFF]! Lost all respect!
“@billbarnwell: How many free throws does Asik have to hit before the Thunder abandon this strategy? Another example of hero coaching from Scotty Brooks, no?”
“@jadande: Here’s the thing with that fouling garbage: I’ve seen it produce a W about .02 % of the time. Sure didn’t help OKC tonight.”