It was a disheartening first half of basketball for Houston, but the game eventually evolved into a microcosm of both the individual seasons for both teams and the MVP race, as the Rockets rebounded in the second half to take down the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-111 to lead their first-round playoff series 2-0.
Russell Westbrook finished with a ridiculous-looking 51 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, until you realize it came on 43 shots. And after an efficient and measured first-half, he also devolved into complete hero ball in the fourth-quarter, going 4-18 from the field in an endless stream of ill-advised chucks that completely shot his team right out of what looked like a sure victory. This is your MVP, ladies and gentlemen.
In the meantime, James Harden went for 35 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists on just 17 shots, and though he hit just 7 of them, two of them were clutch threes late in the third quarter to spark the trailing Rockets on a run that would eventually lead to victory.
The Rockets also received clutch performances from Eric Gordon, who finished with 22 points and hit several big shots down the stretch, 15 points from Patrick Beverley, who continues to provide offense, and 21 points from Lou Williams, who carried the Rockets during their uneven start.
Houston fell behind by as many as 15 in the first half, as Russ had 22 points and 10 assists at the break in as controlled of a performance as he’s capable of. Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, the true nature of a chucker will always come out, most often to the detriment of the rest of the team.
Russ took more shots than the rest of the Thunder combined in the second half (28-22), and that resulted in 28 percent shooting as a team after they hit on 55 percent in the first half.
Houston, meanwhile, continued to chip away at the lead, and used the opportunities created from the Thunder offensive meltdown to go on a 12-3 run to close the third period down just 89-86. They followed that up with a 10-0 run in the fourth to put the game away as Westbrook just kept on chuckin’.
Sure, Russ got his fancy triple double, and the accolades of a 50-point one at that, but he also took home the loss, while The Beard’s robust box line resulted in a 2-0 series lead for the Rockets.
The Rockets once again didn’t even play their best game, and still managed to ice this one down the stretch. They hit just 11 threes on the night, 7 of which came in the second half, and they were worked over on the boards 48-37 by the Thunder.
Houston also received a mostly pitiful performance from Ryan Anderson, who was just 1-8 from the field for 4 points, and for stretches of the game, it appeared the Thunder’s continued strategy of chasing down the three-point shooters hard was going to pay off. Anderson was also mostly worthless on defense.
The Rockets also just got 4 from Trevor Ariza, though he spent large chunks of the second half trailing Russ, so his performance is bit more excusable than Anderson’s.
I’m also going to mention this just one time: the Rockets managed to win despite some sequences of officiating that were downright shameful. We’ll just leave it at that.
Anyway, the point is Houston has significant room for improvement, yet still carry a lead in the series, and the Thunder may have just thrown their best punch and still couldn’t get it done. Russ can have his 50-point triple double, but he can also have another loss.
Game 3 is Friday night in Oklahoma City.