Oklahoma City prevailed and improved their record against Houston this season to 3-0 on the back of Kevin Durant who dropped 42 points (12 of 22 overall, 5 of 8 from 3), 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, and a block.
Harden ended up with a near triple-double with 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists; but outside of Chandler Parsons (19 points, 6 boards, 4 assists, 2 steals), the Rockets had no one who could help consistently move the scoreboard. In fact, Garcia's flurry of three pointers in the second half were the only things that gave another Rocket a double figure point total.
Howard in particular was a dud offensively, scoring just 9 points, going 4-12 from the floor and 1 of 6 from the free throw line. Adams, Ibaka, and Thabeet did a solid job limiting Dwight's impact which disallowed Houston from playing inside-out basketball effectively and let the Thunder react less on defense. Even without Kedrick Perkins, who Howard historically is terrible against, OKC found a way to limit his contributions offensively.
Despite much in-game tension between the two, the on-court battle between Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley was pretty one-sided. Beverley ended with just 2 points on 1 of 4 shooting, 1 rebound, 3 assists, and 2 steals in 24 minutes. Westbrook had his way with Beverley, Lin, and the rest of the Rockets defense in the second quarter and KD closed the fourth quarter like all great players do.
Despite dominating the points in the paint category 42-26, the Rockets failed to create their offense in a consistent fashion, causing Garcia to be dusted off from the bench in order to get any production from the bench.
Houston made it close at the end, but every time a ray of hope would shine Durant, Butler, or Westbrook would respond in kind, preventing a valiant comeback at the end of the game.
Now, the details...
In the first meeting between Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook since the Patrick inadvertently took Russell out for the playoffs and for a chunk of games this season with a knee injury, Oklahoma City went straight to the Westbook post-up on Beverley. The Thunder scored the first time, but Russell committed an offensive foul on the second fighting for position for the entry pass.
Russell was responsible for 3 of OKC's 4 turnovers accrued before the 9 minute mark of the first quarter. This got Houston's transition offense going, resulting in Parsons three pointers and alley-oop dunks in transition from Dwight. The Thunder could not keep the ball secured, but kept the score close early on. OKC relied primarily on Westbrook's scoring, allowing Kevin Durant to be more of a distributor in the early stages of the quarter.
Honestly, though, the story of the first quarter was the much anticipated tiffs between Westbrook and Beverley. Not only was there a tussle after a play when Beverley gave Westbrook an obvious push, but there was also an altercation as both dove for a loose ball which resulted in an even more riled up OKC crowd than usual; and that's saying something.
Durant started cooking when Russell went to the bench, quickly ascending to double digit scoring with 4 minutes still remaining in the first quarter. For the Rockets, scoring was balanced out of the gate. No player had more than 5 points but every starter had at least one field goal at the end of the first quarter. Harden struggled shooting the ball, going 1 of 5 in the first period , which was reflective of Houston's more general shooting effort in the quarter. the Rockets shot just 33% in the first period and just 29% from downtown. OKC out-edged the Rockets, if marginally, in essentially every statistical category, leading to a 26-24 lead into the second quarter.
Houston opened up the period with two successive turnovers from Hamilton and Lin. Reggie Jackson returned the favor with an offensive foul of his own and Jordan Hamilton fought his way to the free throw line to briefly take the lead. OKC re-claimed control quickly, taking advantage of a few miscues and hitting shots against a generally flat-footed Houston defense. Houston's offense lost steam as Steven Adams played some impressive defense against Dwight on a stretch of possessions intended to operate through the post. OKC extended the lead to 9 (39-30) midway through the quarter.
As halftime approached, Westbrook started to assert control. Russell was scoring in the fastbreak, forcing the issue in the halfcourt, and distributing the ball despite his high number of first half turnovers (5). Westbrook was simply too fast off of the ball and too good at forcing contact to get to the free throw line.
This was about the point where the specter of Thunder game's past reared its ugly head. Behind the Westbrook effort, OKC went on a 23-8 run and put the Rockets in a deep 16 point deficit. The worst part was that a majority of the damage was done without Kevin Durant on the floor. At some point after the first quarter, I expected someone to continue that into the second quarter but everyone stalled. Before Harden and Parsons stopped the bleeding on that run with a few scores, no single Rocket player, starter or bench, hit more than 2 field goals.
Houston ended the quarter a hopeful Harden lay-up at the rim, meagerly decreasing the deficit to 15 as the half ended.
Houston scored just 17 second quarter points and shot a paltry 35% from the floor. OKC was out-rebounding (29-20), out-distributing (11-7 assist total), out-running (13-9 fastbreak points), and just generally out-playing Houston. Parsons and Harden barely nudged their scoring totals to double digits before halftime. The bench, again, came out with a flat effort, hitting zero field goals and scoring all 9 of their points from the free throw line. To put that in perspective, they shot an abysmal 64% from the charity stripe. Even more embarrassing is that, as a team, the Rockets shot just 54% from the free throw line on 22 overall attempts.
Westbrook and Durant scored 32 of OKC's 56 with the remaining points being scored by opportunistic baskets by others and several Ruseell/KD assisted three point bombs.
At the start of the third quarter, Dwight Howard continued to struggle, getting another one of his shots at the rim blocked by OKC and committing an offensive foul on the other end. Westbrook continued his display of athleticism, driving home another basket after streaking across the hardwood. Jones broke Houston's second half silence with a nifty fade-away bank shot nearly 2 and a half minutes into the second half followed by an and-1 bucket under the basket on the next trip down the floor.
Adams and Harden had a small altercation after James got decked by an elbow under the rim. The result was a flagrant foul, granting Harden two easy points and the Rockets possession with what was turned into just an 11 point advantage.
Durant quickly delivered a three pointer to keep Houston at a distance and as the third quarter entered its final minutes, OKC sustained a lead nearly equal to their halftime lead until Francisco Garcia, who had been largely minute-less for a long string of games, sank a three pointer. Lin followed it up with a nice drive and layup at the rim to cut the lead to single digits.
By the end of the quarter, Houston trailed by ten points, 77-67.
The fourth quarter began with a few fumbled plays followed by a much needed Garcia three pointer at the shot clock buzzer to bring the lead down to just seven. Moments later, a Harden pick and roll with Asik ended in an easy dunk for the Turk, bringing the lead to just five with 9:30 remaining in the game.
Kevin Durant re-established a ten point lead with a pair of jumpers and Westbrook forced a turnover and a foul on the following possession. Garcia responded by sinking another three (his third of the evening), but Durant and OKC came right back to push the lead to 13. Yet another confrontation between members of both teams resulted in a technical foul on Durant. After Harden took the free throw, he then ripped cord on a three pointer in transition to cut the lead back to 7 before, again, the Thunder responded with a three pointer of their own.
As the game went under the 3 minute mark, the lead was 8.
Harden knocked down yet another Durant-esque transition three pointer from the top of the key, once again slashing the lead down to just two possessions. With 90 seconds remaining in the contest, Westbrook got fouled on a three point attempt by Beverley, who was having a poor game overall. Durant then nailed a step-back jumper to extend the lead to eight.
Houston ran out of time and it was a classic case of 'too little, too late,' and Houston's loss column finally ticked into the 20s.
As unpleasant as it was to see Dwight get snuffed out on offense by Steven Adams and Hasheem Thabeet, its hard to hold most consistent player this season responsible for one off-game. Some combination of Terrence Jones, Patrick Beverley, Jeremy Lin, and Jordan Hamilton (maybe now Cisco?) have to contribute 30 points in games somehow. Harden, Howard, and Parsons can keep us within range and even single-handedly win games most of the time, but not against teams like OKC.
Poor second quarters like the one we had tonight are killers in games against high-caliber opponents. I still have a supreme amount of confidence in this teams ability to put it together at the end of games and I think that the past few weeks of basketball have proven that. This loss hurts because it seems like we can never beat OKC. Durant has a tendency to explode offensively when he plays us in particular.
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Either way, nothing else we can do but move on to the next one...Chicago's up next