I blame Josh Smith. The Pistons waived him, the Rockets signed him, and by all evidence both teams were improved.
That said, the Thunder boomed out to a 4-0 lead early. And that was the end of that: the Rockets responded with a 16-0 run and never trailed again. It was 40-18 after the first quarter; a 35-point second quarter brought OKC to within 11 at the half, though they’d never quite get within 10, and inside the three-minute mark, with Houston up 108-91, the white flag was hoisted. James Harden hung around a little longer, perhaps in search of a triple-double — he wound up with 31 points, 10 assists but only nine rebounds — but after a 5-0 run by the Thunder reserves, Kevin McHale presumably saw the light and pulled all his starters except for Donatas Motiejunas. Just as well: all five of those starters made double figures, as did, um, Josh Smith, on the way to a Houston win, 112-101. (There will be only one more game between these teams, so the Rockets win the season series.)
The Rockets shot 48 percent and 16 of 36 treys. (Thunder: 43 and 11-29.) Most of the other numbers were pretty close, so you have to look for other factors, and one of the most obvious was Trevor Ariza’s stifling defense against Kevin Durant. KD got off only 12 shots all night, though he hit eight of them and finished with 24 points. And there was progress on another front: getting good production out of both Dion Waiters and Reggie Jackson, each of whom scored 16, as did Russell Westbrook. Serge Ibaka anted up 13, but no one else in Thunder blue (actually, it was those black-ish alternates) managed more than six.
Good news: after this single road loss, the Thunder go back home. Bad news: the Golden State Warriors, already 2-0 against OKC, will be waiting for them. And instead of five days between games, this time the Thunder get zero. After that, five games on the road against the East, a brief stop at home to welcome the Timberwolves, and back on the road again. If you haven’t fastened your seat belt yet, what’s holding you back?