By: A. Suave Francisco via InsideThunder.com
Telling them to leave their families halfway through the day to play a basketball game can be emotionally taxing and can result in a bit of a hangover on the court, due to lack of motivation. That wasn’t the case tonight in Oklahoma City, as the Thunder entered their highly-touted game against the Houston Rockets with limitless energy, which resulted in a 112-107 victory and their fifth straight.
Looking at the box score, you’ll notice that the big three combined for 75 points on 54.9 percent shooting. You’ll probably come to the automatic conclusion that’s the main reason the Thunder improved to (11-3) in the month of December against the best team in the Western Conference. Weirdly enough, that isn’t the case.
James Harden shot only 38 percent from the field and 27 percent from the three-point line. His defender was Andre Roberson, who was all over the place throughout tonight’s game.
Offensively, he continued what he’s been doing a lot of in the month of December; slashing towards the basket, going back-and-forth from corner to corner, working to lose his defender for an easy assist from Russell Westbrook.
Defensively, his impact was insurmountable for even the best scorer in the NBA, James Harden, who in the two games before Christmas combined for 102 points. Throughout the game, wherever Harden was, Roberson was attached to his hip. As the game progressed, it grew increasingly difficult for Harden to get quality shots off and it was evident that he was frustrated.
Harden did do a great job adjusting by getting his teammates involved, finishing the game with 14 assists and he found crafty ways to bait defenders into questionable foul calls, even with Roberson in the game. Harden shot 12-of-14 from the free throw line, a game-high, which is why he finished the game with 29 points.
It’s the late-game adjustments Andre Roberson made that won the game for the Thunder. Houston exercised the “hack-a-Dre” method, giving Billy Donovan an option to take his chances with Roberson at the line or to take him out of the game and take his chances with Paul George or Jerami Grant as Harden’s primary defender to end the game. Donovan opted to pull Roberson out of the game at the 3:28 mark of the fourth quarter for Jerami Grant, with OKC leading 104-101. At the 1:31 mark, Roberson checked back in for Jerami Grant with the Thunder lead still at three, 107-104. After a couple of failed offensive trips for the Rockets, James Harden attempted a 24-footer with 27 seconds left, which was blocked by Roberson. Subsequently, Roberson was rewarded for the clutch defensive play with a transition layup, making the score 112-107. If that wasn’t enough, in Houston’s last offensive possession, Roberson stole the ball away from Eric Gordon with 15 seconds left and the Thunder iced the game.
Games like these are the reason Andre Roberson got his contract this past offseason. Games like these are also the reason why you have to live with the fact that he isn’t a good shooter, in exchange for what he gives you on the defensive end. If it weren’t for him, Harden would’ve shot better than 38 percent from the field and the game probably wouldn’t have been close enough to come down to the final seconds like it did.