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Game Day: Rockets at Thunder

Analysis and observations from Houston's 106-98 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

Given all the pre-game discussion and time spent yakking about the Pat Beverley-Russell Westbrook reunion slated tonight, the reception for the former during the game’s intros was pretty tepid and muted overall. Then the contest began, the two point guards collided prior to a timeout in eerily similar fashion to the now infamous play that ruined Westbrook’s postseason, and the words ‘tepid’ and ‘muted’ could be thrown away for the rest of the evening. From that point forward, OKC’s arena transformed into a bubbling cauldron of hate and hostility, leaving one to wonder what on earth another seven-game series between these two teams would bring forth. The simple answer: bad blood, and lots of it.

The downside for Houston is that while Westbrook seemingly thrives on chaos, the Rockets, rattled or no, certainly struggled to find any sense of rhythm offensively. Houston hit just 35 percent of its shots from the field in the first half while languishing through a particularly icy stretch that saw the club go more than 10 minutes without a made field goal. Only an abundance of free throws kept the Rockets afloat during the opening 24 minutes, but even from the charity stripe points seemed hard to come by as Houston went just 12-of-22 from the line during the first half.

Westbrook and the Thunder, meanwhile, found their groove as the fouls piled up and Houston’s frustration set in during second quarter. OKC’s mercurial point guard scored 11 of his 15 first half points in the period as the Thunder nearly doubled up Houston 30-17 en route to taking a 15-point halftime edge.

- As expected, rookie Steven Adams and Hasheem Thabeet were fouling machines when forced to go toe-to-toe with Dwight Howard. Even Nick Collison needed just two minuets to rack up three fouls of his own. What was surprising, however, is that Houston’s All-Star center wasn’t able to pile up big numbers on the offensive end. Howard hit halftime with just five points and six rebounds while hitting just two of his seven shots from the field and going 1-of-6 from the free throw line. For various reasons, Howard has struggled against Oklahoma City this season and it goes without saying that he’s an essential ingredient in any formula for success Houston hopes to have against the Thunder going forward this season. His final line tonight: just 9 points and 10 rebounds during 32 mostly frustrating minutes of action.

- Not helping matters for Howard: the Rockets’ ice cold perimeter shooting. The Thunder came into tonight’s game hemorrhaging points from the perimeter but Houston was unable to take advantage, despite receiving their fair share of open looks in the early going. With the way OKC packs the paint, quality opportunities beyond the arc are going to be there and the Rockets’ inability to capitalize certainly did Howard no favors. Then again, Howard got a lot of good looks himself; his baby hook simply wasn’t falling for him the vast majority of the night.

- Another word about that Oklahoma City D: tonight the Thunder were leaps and bounds better than they had been at pretty much any point since they returned from the All-Star break. Then again – and this is just a hunch – I have a sneaky suspicion the Thunder’s intensity level hasn't been this high for a long time, too.

- And yet, despite all the ugliness and, at times, outright OKC domination, the Rockets still managed to hang around. They scratched and clawed their way back into the ‘So you’re saying there’s a chance!’ zone by the end of the third quarter, and then began the final frame with a mini 5-0 run fueled in part by a miraculous Francisco Garcia 3-pointer that barely beat the 24-second clock. Suddenly, improbably, Houston had its deficit down to five points, instantly resurrecting memories of Sunday’s unforgettable rally to beat the Blazers. Give the Rockets credit for this much: they’ve gotten pretty darn good at this whole larceny thing.

- Also pretty darn good: Kevin Durant, who just so happens to be one heck of a one-man rally killer/buzzkill/basketball player. No sooner had Houston made its run before KD returned to the game and rapidly went about the business of restoring order and the Thunder’s double-digit advantage. 

- Speaking of Durant, he and Garcia had some rather memorable run-ins in last year's playoffs. Tonight’s fourth quarter, which saw Garcia prominently involved despite the fact he hadn’t played a single minute over the course of the last nine games, featured a great deal of those two, ummm, renewing acquaintances. Full credit to Garcia, though, whose shooting and toughness gave Houston a boost it had to have on a night when so few of its players could connect from long range.

Durant, meanwhile, was his ridiculous self while dropping 42 points. But James Harden was awfully absurd himself. Houston’s All-Star two-guard kept his club alive on a night that had blowout written all over it at various points. Harden finished with 28 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds.

- Tonight’s 106-98 loss drops the Rockets to 44-20. Next up for Houston: a Thursday night showdown with the Chicago Bulls.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

We missed multiple free throws and layups. We didn’t play very well.

(on Pat Beverley’s aggressiveness)

He should be aggressive. This is a game where you if you play aggressive, good things happen.

(fine line with that aggressiveness?)

No. That’s why you have referees.

(Dwight missing good looks)

We missed 15 layups out there. We went in there soft and we didn’t attack the rim. We had perimeter guys laying it up, big guys missing shots at the rim, we missed two or three dunks. You’re not going to win against a quality team doing things like that.

(On resilience)

We kept fighting. We didn’t play particularly well the whole night. Give them credit. They stopped us, Durant made some big shots for them and had a couple of those tough, pull-up 3s. We missed a couple assignments defensively that gave them some looks. They’re a good team.

CHANDLER PARSONS

(caught up in the chaos in the second quarter?)

It’s tough when you get down that much against a team as good as they are. We beat ourselves tonight. We missed so many layups, we fouled shooters three separate times. We kept fouling them and putting them in the bonus. How many free throws did KD shoot? That’s ridiculous. You can’t put him on the line that many times when he shoots 90 percent. We really shot ourselves in the foot all night long. We had chances to win the game. We missed a lot of layups. I missed four or five floaters, Dwight couldn’t finish around the rim. Guys just couldn’t finish tonight on shots they usually make.

(Did emotions play a role?)

Nah, we like that. That’s how we’re going to play. We’re physical, Pat’s aggressive, we’re always going to have his back. That doesn’t change just because it’s Westbrook; he plays like that against every team we play.

JAMES HARDEN

(get caught up in the emotions?)

Yeah, I think so. I think if we just stick to what we do and do it to the best of our abilities no matter what’s going on we’ll be good. Sometimes we kind of veer off and get distracted a little bit. If everybody is not on the same page, it just looks bad.

(is this a lesson heading into the playoffs?)

Yeah, from here on our every game is going to be a playoff atmosphere. We’ve had a couple already, one tonight, one Thursday and then another one on Sunday. Every game is going to be emotional and we’ve got to do a great job of fighting through it and not getting sidetracked but focusing on the main goal.

(what changed in the second half?)

We focused. We refocused, starting moving the basketball, started getting stops on the defensive end and just made it tough for them.

(on Beverley)

Pat is going to play the same way no matter who it is. That’s how he makes his money. That’s his identity.

(rivalry brewing with OKC?)

They’ve been very good for a couple years now. We’re trying to get to that level. They've been No. 1 in the West for a couple years and we’re young but we still haven’t proven anything. This is our first year together so we still have a long way to go.

These are two great teams that want to win. It’s just that simple.

PAT BEVERLEY

(get caught up in the emotions?)

No. We’re professional basketball players. I think we kept our cool, things got heated, we kept our composure and we fought back. We cut the lead to five but came up short in the end.

(were you sending a message to Westbrook?)

No message. That’s how I play against everybody. There’s no personal bias out there today. I just have to go out there and fight and try to do what I do to help my team win basketball games.

(when things get heated does that bring out the best in you?)

I don’t hear anybody. I don’t hear anything when I’m on the court. I’m in character, I’m in my zone. I just see what’s going on on the court. I really don’t hear what’s going on outside of me.

DWIGHT HOWARD

I missed a lot of shots I normally would make, especially around the basket.

(did the emotions take the team out of rhythm in the second quarter?)

I missed a lot of shots. A lot of shots I normally make around the basket went in and out or were short. I was upset about that. I told the guys I feel like I could have done a better job and that I let them down tonight. I need to be more dominant on both ends of the floor, and I didn’t do that tonight so I was upset about that.

(on Beverley)

That was Pat being Pat. You can’t take that away from him. He’s going to be aggressive and he’s going to get into Russell and into all their point guards and work hard to make it tough for them to score. He got in foul trouble doing it, but you can’t take away somebody’s aggressiveness.