I think we were all preparing for the worst tonight: Thunder defense has been conspicuous by its absence of late, the Rockets are known for their offensive prowess, and besides, James Harden. The 26-24 OKC lead after the first quarter was, let’s admit it, reassuring; 56-41 at the half was more so. Still, Houston does not take these things lightly, and a one-time 18-point Thunder lead was shaved to five late in the fourth quarter. Patrick Beverley, no friend of Russell Westbrook, had cozied up to Russ in the first in pretty much the same way he’d attacked him many games ago: he got a tech for his trouble. So it’s probably apropos that with 91 seconds left, Beverley fouled Westbrook in the act of shooting a trey, and Westbrook calmly — for Westbrook, anyway — sank all three of the free throws to push the OKC lead back to eight. For Beverley, it was his fifth foul; he finished with two points. And for Houston, it was their third straight loss to Oklahoma City. The final was 106-98, which, now that I think about it, is about what it ought to have been.
Oh, yes, Harden. A dull lump in the first half, he was Mr. Excitement in the second, leading the Houston attack with just shy of a triple-double: 28 points, eight rebounds, nine assists. The Beard played 44 minutes; Chandler Parsons trumped that with a 46-minute enduro collecting 19 points. Dwight Howard, freed from the necessity of having to deal with Kendrick Perkins, turned in a vaguely Dwightish performance: nine points, ten boards, hit one out of six free throws. The threat in the late going, however, proved to be Francisco Garcia, who ratcheted up 11 points, including three treys, in a mere 14 minutes, and who made a futile attempt to rip Kevin Durant’s arm off.
KD, incidentally, went off for 42 tonight on a 12-22 binge. Westbrook, allowed to play for half an hour, finished with 24. Serge Ibaka had a so-so night from the floor, a big one on the backboard: ten points, including the turnaround jumper that finished the Rockets for good, and 16 rebounds. Weirdness from the box score: OKC was 27-34 from the foul line, and that was divided among only three players: Durant (13-16), Westbrook (11-14), and Derek Fisher (3-4). It’s like Kevin McHale pointed to the bench and said “Don’t foul those guys.” Meanwhile, Steven Adams, tasked with keeping Howard at bay, wound up with four fouls, including a Flagrant One. Almost what Perk would have done, come to think of it.
The Lakers will be here Thursday. Payback, as a wise person said, has its byotchitude.