And in the end, the difference proved to be James Harden, who, perhaps better than anyone else on 29 NBA teams, knows how to work around the Thunder, and Jeremy Lin, who’s learned how to work with Harden. The Rockets, down 109-97 with six and a half minutes left, went on a four-minute 21-2 tear, and it’s hard to see how Harden or Lin could have played it any better. The final was 122-119; The Beard pocketed a career-high 46 of those 122 points, and Lin knocked down 29, his season high.
The first quarter should have been a clue. Houston put up thirteen treys in twelve minutes, and sank eight of them to go up 36-29. Oklahoma City started figuring out a perimeter defense in the second and earned a 62-57 halftime lead. But the Rockets never went away, and Harden put together a stunning line: 14-19 shooting, 7-8 from beyond the circle, 11-12 at the stripe. The Rocket bench, depleted due to trades, came up with only a dozen points, but they didn’t need to do much more than that.
And this, mind you, on a night when Thabo Sefolosha got a career high: 28 points on 11-16 shooting and 6-10 from downtown. Russell Westbrook laid claim to a double-double (28 points, ten rebounds); Kevin Durant had a triple-double (16 points, 12 boards, 11 assists). Serge Ibaka scored 16 and blocked five shots. Kendrick Perkins and Jeremy Lamb were out of sorts and didn’t play, but it’s hard to imagine that they’d have made much difference.
That’s 0-3 the last three, and it’s time to cast a Resilience Spell or something. Next two games in the 405: the we-need-to-prove-something Timberwolves (Friday) and the oh-Derrick-Rose-may-be-back Bulls (Sunday). At this point, I wouldn’t consider the Pelicans (next Wednesday) a sure win.