I’d suspected for some time that the Houston Rockets, despite the absence of Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming, were capable of a heck of a lot more than their lowly record suggested, and besides, the Thunder never win at the Toyota Center. And they didn’t this time, either: two presumed Oklahoma City strengths — rebounds and free throws — were conspicuous by their absence, and the Rockets squeaked by, 99-98. It was, nevertheless, a squeak: the Thunder pulled to within one with 30 seconds left, and Houston managed to use up the maximum amount of clock. A would-be buzzer-beater by Kevin Durant didn’t.
Where the Rockets excelled, though, was from beyond the arc: 10 out of 17. (Closer in, they weren’t so wonderful: 28 of 67.) And they moved the ball with seemingly wild abandon, recording 26 assists. (The Thunder had only 19, and Russell Westbrook had ten of them.) Kevin Martin rang up exactly his 23-point average; five other Rockets scored in double figures, with both Kyle Lowry and Shane Battier at season highs.
After a terrible opening, the Thunder brought up their shooting percentage to 49.4, but they were hopeless on the long ball: five of 12. Durant was held to a mere 18 points; Serge Ibaka, who started in place of Nenad Krstić, ran up 12 points in the first quarter and finished with 16. Westbrook got the only double-double of the night: those 10 dimes, plus 23 points and no turnovers. But the Thunder left eight points at the stripe, hitting only 15 of 23. (The Rockets, 13 of 20, were no better.)
This season, the Thunder’s tendency has been to lose the first game of a back-to-back and then win the second. Unfortunately, the second is against the 12-4 Hornets, and being back at home likely won’t improve matters: OKC is 6-2 on the road but only 5-4 at the Arena With No Fixed Name.