For the 2nd year in a roll, your Houston Rockets have secured a playoff berth before the season ends, and this time, they didn’t even need Jermaine O’Neal. The Rockets beat the Thunder 111-107 to avoid the season sweep and clinch a playoff berth. The win also marked the Rockets' 10th 50+ win season in franchise history.
After dropping 3 very winnable games without their franchise center, Dwight Howard, and the resident rabid raccoon, Patrick Beverley, the Rockets were in a dire need for a pick-me-up, and a tough win at home over the best team in the West is just what the doctor ordered.
Rockets were led by James Harden’s tremendous line of 39 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals. Chandler Parsons added 23 points while taking on the daunting task of guarding Kevin Durant. The Thunder, unsurprisingly, were led by the man that would match Jordan, Kevin Durant with 28 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assist. Serge Ibaka poured in 27 points, and had his customary
gazillion 6 blocks against the Rockets.
Rockets started the game scorching hot, immediately jump on the team on a back to back by taking a 14 to 4 lead. Offensively, Terrence Jones did a terrific job exploiting the extra attention the Thunder give Harden, getting into the paint on cuts and rolls, had a sensational put back, even overpowered Durant on a post up. Jones’ early activity in the paint is probably one of the reason why Brooks abandoned his big line up and went to a very potent small lineup for the majority of the game. The perimeter big 3 of Parsons, Harden and Lin didn’t shoot particularly well in the first half, but they remained aggressive. Harden and Parsons each earned trips to the line, and Lin had a couple of early dishes.
However, it would not be a Houston Rocket game if there was not some drama. The 3rd quarter was an M. Night Shyamalan worthy twist. Focusing on Kevin Durant so much, Rockets lost containment on the auxiliary guys. Ibaka dominated the glass and found himself at the end of open 3s and dunks. Reggie Jackson, who always seems to go off on the Rockets, found himself in the paint over and over, either hitting shots or dishing to Caron Butler for the open 3. On top of the Rockets' defensive breakdowns, OKC hit all kinds of crazy shots like they were routine, topped off by none other than Serge Ibaka stepping into a trailing, top of the key 3 like Dirk Nowitzki and banking it in. OKC scored 39 points in the 3rd quarter on 63% shooting, a far cry from the 38% first half.
Rockets, however, were able to keep pace by shooting 54% themselves. Despite losing the lead and going down by 8 points at one point, they shown the determination and composure that they had not the last 2 games, keeping the ball moving and getting good shots to stay within striking distance going into to the deciding quarter.
Jeremy Lin started 4th quarter by confidently hitting a pull up 3 to reclaim the lead. It was one of the clearest signs of the game that the Rockets were not intimidated at all. It’d be a contentious game the rest of the way. Down the stretch, Thunder decided to go to Durant almost exclusively, which only played into Houston’s strategy of loading up on him. In the last few minutes of a close game, Omer Asik came up with 2 huge offensive rebounds, and went 3 of 4 from the free throw line to effectively seal the game early, proving once again just how much of a luxury he is. Ultimately, OKC hurt themselves with a slew of fouls on perimeter jump shots, fouling James Harden impulsively down only 3 with 28 seconds to go.
It was a tough game for OKC, the 2nd night of back to back and without Westbrook, but Houston was also without Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley. It doesn't diminish the win though. Rockets did everything that good teams should do: They took advantage early, matched runs, kept their composure even when bounces don’t go their way, and stayed aggressive the entire game. They even won the game mostly on the strength of good defense. The Rockets still cannot do most of these things consistently, but they are doing them more often than not. With only 1 game left against playoff teams, and home court still on the line, the final stretch of games will show us just how mature the Rockets have become.
- I don’t know what Thunders ate for pre-game meal, but I’m guessing it’s saute Rabbit’s foot, a bowl of 4 leaf clovers, and like a living Leprechaun? Talk about making improbable things go their way. Here are some examples:
- James Harden saves the ball, it goes straight to an OKC player and right to Durant for a layup.
- Nick Collison open in the corner, and he just drained it.
- Pocket pass to Ibaka, who literally dunked the ball with .1 second to go on shot clock.
- Chandler Parsons all over Caron Butler top of the key, pump fake throws it up through Parsons’ arms, NAILED IT!
- Already mentioned Serge Ibaka swag banks a 3 in, but still worth mentioning again.
- Reggie Jackson, time winding down, fade away with hand in his face? Money!
- Nick Collison elbow with 1 second on the clock, turnaround 20ft jumper? Bang! Biscuit!
- These are just ones I remember, there’s probably more.
- Francisco Garcia and Parsons did about as good of a job on Kevin Durant as humanly possible. Garcia especially, seems to get a pass on playing Kevin Durant exceptionally physical. The Rockets pretty much had 3 guys going at Kevin Durant at all times, and what happened?
Kevin Durant still got 25+ points to tied Jordan’s streak at 40. It's an unfixable bug in reality, a walking breathing glitch, It's Kevin.