But, for the second time against OKC, James Harden and the Rockets played well enough in the waning moments to eke out a win over the Beard’s old employer. This time, the Rockets took it 118-116.
Harden finished the game with 26 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds. Patrick Beverley got his fifth foul with five minutes left, but stayed in the game to come up with big rebound after big rebound (he also finished with 8 boards). And Nene turned back the clock when the Rockets needed it most against the Thunder’s bruising front line to score 18 points, including the two free throws with 0.7 seconds left to clinch the victory.
The Thunder had the ball with 24.9 seconds left and the game tied at 116. Russell Westbrook, sitting on a 49-point night, dribbled into a screen and got Harden switched onto him. He immediately attacked and shot a long two and missed. Beverley got the rebound, and then Mike D’Antoni, after a couple of timeouts, drew up this beauty.
That was the difference in the game; each superstar had a chance to win the game. Westbrook went into hero ball — which, to be fair, Harden did a lot of last year — and missed. Harden threw a picture-perfect pass to an open man, and the Rockets got their sixth straight victory.
The Rockets started the game ice cold, with Andre Roberson shutting down Harden (again), but, after finding themselves down 14 because of a ridiculously hot shooting start from the Thunder, the temperature of the game changed.
Harden broke away from Roberson on a fast break and got his first bucket. Then he hit a three. Then Montrezl Harrell hit a layup while getting fouled, missed the free throw, the Rockets got the board and Harden hit another three. The Rockets finished the first quarter down by five points.
The start of the second quarter was just another reason why Eric Gordon is putting himself in All-Star conversations. He had 13 points in the period and ran the offense in Harden’s stead, completing the comeback the Beard started. By the time Harden checked back in for Gordon, the Rockets were up two. They kept piling on and piling on. From the time they were down 14 points, the Rockets outscored the Thunder 50-25 going into halftime.
It was more of the same in the third quarter, but the fourth was when the wheels began to fall off. The Thunder pounded the glass, getting second-chance points while keeping the Rockets to a shot per possession. The shots didn’t fall for Houston in the fourth either — Trevor Ariza hit one big three, so did Beverley — and Russell Westbrook led his team all the way back, thanks to a career-high 7 three-pointers.
While Rockets fans could have used a Thunder game with less nail-biting and nervous dry-heaving, they’re now 9-2 in games decided by five points or less (props to Craig Ackerman for that stat). They’re on a six-game winning streak and have won 17 of their last 19. They’re 28-9 on the year, on pace for 62 wins. The team record is 58.
This team is battle-tested, it plays great offense and good defense, has one of the five best players in the league, one of its smartest coaches, the best sixth man, the best role player and maybe the best GM. God bless this team and this season.