The story of this game was written fairly quickly: the Thunder jumped out to an early 10-3 lead, and yet were down 27-17 after the first quarter, the Rockets having burned them with an 18-0 run. After that, it was not quite catching up for most of the rest of the afternoon, hindered by foul trouble and the failure to connect on several shots right at the rim. Still, with 3:06 left, the Thunder did manage to catch up, a Russell Westbrook trey tying it at 100-all. James Harden scored the next eight Houston points, and then fouled out; it was 108-104 Rockets when Harden retired from the game, and Houston kept making free throws. On the last blast, it was 115-112 with 3.4 seconds; the last Thunder shot was two feet short of the rim, and that’s the way it ended.
Harden was something like 0.03 points ahead of Westbrook for leading scorer in the NBA; The Beard will gain some infinitesimal fraction after his 41-6-6 performance. Westbrook finished at 40-11-13. Thunder shooting was fairly blah at 44 percent, a little better (14-30, 47 percent) from downtown. OKC had a 51-42 edge in rebounding, 17-12 offensive, but what mattered more were those 18 turnovers; the Rockets gave up only 10. And while big numbers were gotten by some Enes Kanter had yet another double-double (21 points, 17 rebounds) and Anthony Morrow still hit from outside (22 points, 6-8 for three), big stops were still hard to come by, what with the best defenders still on the injured list.
Speaking of injured, Dwight Howard, who had been for several weeks, came back with a minutes limitation; in 23 minutes he scored 22 and hauled in eight rebounds. Trevor Ariza came up one board short of a double-double, scoring 12; Josh Smith led the bench with 14. But the difference was Harden, who was pretty much everywhere for 38 minutes before incurring that sixth foul.
The Spurs will be in on Tuesday. Nobody said this was going to be a breeze.