The Houston Rockets dropped their first three games, losing by 20 to Denver, by 20 to Golden State, and by 20 to Miami. You have to figure that this couldn’t go on indefinitely, and indeed the Rockets jumped out to an early seven-point lead; the Thunder fought back, and by halftime had a 65-54 lead. Then both Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson got into foul trouble — four each — and while they were sidelined, the Rockets erased the entirety of that lead while confining OKC to a mere 14 points in that third quarter. Things got hairy after that, and is anyone surprised to hear that Westbrook and Patrick Beverley drew offsetting technicals? Not me, and probably not you either. Houston never led by more than seven, but all you need at the horn is one, and the Thunder never got any closer than three in the waning moments. Houston 110, OKC 105, and two streaks come to a grinding halt.
I’ve harped on turnovers, and I’m sure Billy Donovan has harped on turnovers, but I’m not quite sure it’s sunk in yet: OKC had all sorts of superior numbers tonight, including most notably a 55-34 rebounding advantage, 14-7 off the offensive glass, but the Rockets had seven blocks and 18 steals. That’s twenty-five times the Thunder gave up the rock, against 12 for Houston. There were several times when the team seemed downright panicky: “What do we do now?” “Execute the way you’re supposed to” is always the answer, but they didn’t do it. And James Harden, who’d had a horrific start to his season, started looking like James Harden again, with a game-high 37 points. Truth be told, I think he was just looking for his confidence to come back. Hell of a gift for the Thunder to hand him.
If nothing else, this game should tell OKC that there are only so many times in a season where old-fashioned hero ball will actually work. This wasn’t one of them. At the very least, they need to pass the ball around a bit: 17 assists will not do the trick, especially if you’ve committed a couple of dozen turnovers along the way. (Houston had 22 assists and, I repeat, only 12 turnovers.) We’ll see if they remember that Wednesday night when the Raptors come to town.