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Thunder Roll To Big Win Over Rockets

December 29, 2012 11:04 pm EST

HOUSTON - A four games in five nights stretch is no joke. Neither, of course, are the Oklahoma City Thunder.

That deadly combination completely undid the Rockets Saturday night, dooming them to their worst home defeat in more than three years. The grisly end result: a 124-94 loss that brought an abrupt end to Houston’s four-game home winning streak.

While no one within the Rockets’ locker room – most notably head coach Kevin McHale – had any interest in using the tough scheduling as an excuse, the signs of fatigue were writ large across both the playing court and the box score. There were wide-open shots that clanked off the rim, energy lapses that led to a 17-rebound differential on the boards, and mental miscues galore that manifested themselves in a second straight night that saw the club commit 24 turnovers.

It was perhaps that final point which most decidedly sealed Houston’s fate Saturday night, especially during the critical second quarter stretch in which the Thunder put the Rockets in their rearview mirror. With four minutes remaining before halftime, Jeremy Lin brought his club within two points of Oklahoma City after draining the free throw that followed the fast break layup he’d made while getting fouled by Kevin Martin. Up to that point, the Rockets had played reasonably well and looked up to the task of giving the Thunder all they could handle.

And then, amid a storm of turnovers, their entire operation was rapidly and recklessly torn asunder.  

A Cole Aldrich offensive foul at the 3:33 mark triggered the avalanche; one that would bear witness to four more turnovers over the course of the next three minutes. During that time, Kevin Durant transformed from ice cold to scorching hot, scoring 11 points as part of a 16-0 Oklahoma City run that turned the tight game into a rout. And any hope for a rally ended early in the third quarter when another rash of turnovers allowed the Thunder to spend the vast majority of the period playing with a lead larger than 20. 

“The last two teams we’ve played are very, very good teams,” said Chandler Parsons after the game while addressing Houston’s back-to-back defeats at the hands of Western Conference powers San Antonio and Oklahoma City. “But just the way we’ve played tonight with no energy, silly turnovers – a lot of the stuff we did tonight was just unacceptable.”

Great opponents, fatigue due to road weary legs – those things no doubt contributed to the Rockets’ rough weekend. But Houston has also seemed somewhat susceptible this season to teams, like the Thunder and Spurs, who are only too happy to play at Houston’s preferred pace. As the past two weeks have shown, when the Rockets play against slow-it-down, half-court opponents like the Bulls, Knicks and Grizzlies, they can crush those clubs with their up-tempo style of ball. But put them on the floor with hyper-efficient offenses that can match the Rockets’ pace and, more importantly, exploit Houston’s weak transition defense and propensity for turnovers, and suddenly the matchups begin to tilt in the opponents’ favor.

“When we play teams that are happy to play up and down, we’ve got to be better,” admitted Kevin McHale. We can’t turn it over as much. (The Thunder) were long tonight. They must have had seven or eight deflected balls that turned into turnovers. But the passes we tried making you just can’t make.

“There’s a flow in the game and you have to recognize that flow sometimes and you’ve got to know when it’s time to make the extra pass, when it’s time to be extra careful with the ball, when teams are making runs … and we had none of that tonight and then we just kind of gave in after that.”

And 1s: Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey announced today that the team has assigned forward Royce White to Houston’s single-affiliation NBA D-League partner the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. White (6-8, 260, Iowa State), who has spent most of the season on Houston’s inactive list, was selected by the Rockets with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

We turned it over again. It was a two-point game late in the second quarter and then they went on a 16-0 run and during that time we turned it over, took quick shots. There’s a flow in the game and you have to recognize that flow sometimes and you’ve got to know when it’s time to make the extra pass, when it’s time to be extra careful with the ball, when teams are making runs – let’s get to the line, let’s do this and that – and we had none of that tonight, and then we just kind of gave in after that. We had a hard time generating much energy. I don’t know when it became such a big deal to play four games in five nights.

The bottom line is we’re playing a bunch of guys who have not had these types of roles before in the NBA … We’re playing against a team that’s been together three years. Last night (against the Spurs) we played against a team that’s been together eight years … So it falls on all of us but at a certain point they’ve got to understand those things. I know we’re young but there is a flow to the game you’ve got to understand. And until you understand the flow of the game it’s hard to understand what you’re supposed to do.

There’s one way to get experience and that’s to play and you don’t become a 10-year vet in 20 games. But I don’t think that’s an excuse.

When we play teams that are happy to play up and down, we’ve got to be better. We can’t turn it over as much. They were long tonight. They must have had seven or eight deflected balls that turned into turnovers. But the passes we tried making you just can’t make.

(four games in five nights)

We’re not laying brick in 110 degree heat. We’re playing basketball.

CHANDLER PARSONS

The last two teams we’ve played are very, very good teams. But just the way we’ve played tonight with no energy, silly turnovers – a lot of the stuff we did tonight was just unacceptable. They’re good and same with the Spurs – they hit some tough shots, but we can control a lot of things that we did wrong tonight.

(tough to play against similarly up-tempo teams that can exploit transition defense?)

I don’t think it’s about who we play. I think it’s about how we come and how we prepare. At the end of the day, the coverages we have are the same with every team, whether it’s a fast break team or half court team – it’s really the same thing.

Obviously we are young and it’s going to take time. We’re going to go through tough times like this. We’re going to go through great stretches like we just went through but we’re going to learn and get better together … There are a lot of things that we can control, and when you play a team as good as them they expose you.

JAMES HARDEN

We were in it the first half and then we just had a couple mistakes and then they went on a (16-0) run. Small things like that we have to stay away from in order to beat good teams like these last two teams.

TONEY DOUGLAS

(On what happened) “Turnovers that led to a lot of transition points for them (Thunder).  Offensive rebounding, mostly turnovers, you can't win when you turn the ball over a lot. So, we have to take care of the ball which is so easy to control. We have to make better decisions. We're going to do that. We have to learn from it and move on.”

(On whether fatigue was a factor in the loss) “I don't want to make excuses and say it was fatigue but this is a part of the league. We have 82 games. We're going to have to (play) no matter what. Everybody is playing back to back so we have to man up and take care of our bodies and get ready to play every night.”

MARCUS MORRIS

(On his motivation to play well tonight) “I just felt like I had to have a good one. I came in last night and got some shots up. We were on the road (last night) so I wanted to have a chance to get my feel back. It would have been better if we had won. Anytime somebody has a good game it's always better when you could win the game.”

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER COACH SCOTT BROOKS

(On the game) “We played well and they didn’t play as well as they have been playing. The last two games they played two of the fastest teams in the NBA and it was a tough night for them. We played and everything was clicking, shots we were moving the ball and playing good defense. We do what we do and we just try to do it very efficiently. Both teams are fast and like to get up and down the court and attack. We try to defend and run every time down the court. We have guys that can do that and that’s how we play. The Rockets had a tough time tonight but that’s not about what they’ve been doing all year.”

(On the defensive key to the second quarter run) “Just the activity with our hands. We were using our length and getting into the passing lanes and we were contesting every pass and putting players under duress and then there’s a chance to turn it over. If you don’t put any pressure on them, there’s no chance for a turnover and that’s what we did in second quarter.”

(On Russell Westbrook’s play) “His shots were falling. Russell is going to compete every night. He hasn’t shot the ball as well but he has been doing much better the last 15 games. He competes and I keep telling everybody he is one of the best players in this league because he lays it on the line every night. He doesn’t take possessions off and its not always pretty but he just plays hard every night. Mentally I thought he did a good job of harassing the ball and getting into their ball defenders.”

KEVIN DURANT

(On playing against James Harden) “I played against him everyday in practice for three years but it’s always good to see him. He’s going to be a brother for life. Just being a part for our organization for four years. It’s fun playing against him. Him and I always go at it. I’m glad we got the win.”

(On that the team’s big runs) “It’s very satisfying. We always tell ourselves at the last timeout of the quarter to just finish strong. Tonight we did that and it kind of gave us the lead and we cruised on from there. Everybody played together tonight on both ends. Russell(Westbrook) got us going early and we fed off his energy. We know that Houston has being playing very, very well and they’ve been scoring a lot of points. We watched the game last night and they had 100 points after four quarters. We know at home they build a lot of momentum off the crowd and they play well. We wanted to get back on defense and take good shots as well as turn the ball over. Our point guard did a really good job of setting the tone. We attacked the basket and created some turnovers. Thabo (Sefalosha) was great on defense. On the road, we always tell each other that it’s us against the world.”

RUSSELL WESTBROOK

(On what keyed the second quarter 16-0 run) “Defend, the first quarter we were just going back and fourth and then our tem decided to play defense, and that was the key. We were trying to be aggressive. They lead the league in scoring and they score the ball high on a nightly basis. I f you can defend and score the ball as well as they do, then you have an advantage. We did a good job playing team defense. We know we need to defend and come out every night on the defensive end and that’s the way we have to play all the time.”

(On his play) “I felt comfortable. It’s been the first night all year that I shot the ball well. Now I have to put two games together.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(On the game) “It seemed like everybody got involved and we were flowing as a team and not just as individuals. That was a big key tonight. We were just getting back on defense and we were stopping g them. They have fresh legs, they are young and we knew we could give them trouble if we kept them in half court. This game had a lot of possessions in it because of the way it was played and we had a lot of opportunities to get our hands on balls and get some steals”.

(On returning to Houston) “It was great. I had a lot of success here and the fans, I think I appreciated them as much as they appreciated me. It was just great to be back here playing here and also seeing faces. But not too many players are still here. It was just fun.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,460 for tonight’s game. Tonight’s crowd stands as the fifth largest all-time regular season attendance total at Toyota Center.

The Rockets suffered their largest margin of defeat this season by dropping a 124-94 (-30) decision to the Thunder tonight. Houston has also surrendered 120-plus points in back-to-back games (122 on 12/28/12 at San Antonio).

The Thunder took control of tonight’s game by closing out the first half on a 16-0 run to take a 68-50 lead into halftime. The Rockets also allowed 69 first-half points last night at San Antonio (12/28/12).

Houston went 33-of-83 (.398) from the field tonight, moving to 1-5 this season in games it shoots below .400 from the floor.

The Rockets dropped the battle of the boards by 17 (36-53) tonight, marking the largest rebounding differential against Houston this season.

Oklahoma City nabbed an opponent season-high 16 steals tonight, surpassing a 15-theft outing by Boston at Houston (12/14/12).

James Harden finished with 25 points (6-17 FG, 11-14 FT) and two steals tonight. Harden has now posted 20-plus points in a career-best 12 consecutive games played (12/7/12-12/29/12). It marks the longest such run for the Rockets since a 14-game streak by Yao Ming back in 2005-06 (2/22/06-3/20/06).

Marcus Morris registered a career-high 24 points (9-14 FG, 4-6 3FG) and six rebounds tonight, matching his career best for 3-pointers made (4-6 3FG on 11/16/12 at Portland). Morris surpassed his previous career high of 19 points (6-11 FG, 5-6 FT) in a start at Toronto (12/16/12).

Toney Douglas added 17 points (6-13 FG) and matched his career best of five steals off the bench tonight. Douglas originally set his career high with five thefts vs. Washington (11/5/10).

Russell Westbrook recorded 28 points (11-22 FG, 4-5 FT), eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals tonight. Coming into this game, Westbrook was averaging 21.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 2.11 steals.

Kevin Durant also netted 26 points (8-18 FG, 6-7 FT) tonight. The Thunder now own a record of 12-3 this season when Westbrook and Durant each score 20-plus points in the same game.

Nick Collison collected 12 points (6-10 FG) and 10 rebounds tonight, marking his first double-double of the season.

Kevin Martin, who scored 17 points (6-14 FG, 3-7 3FG) in the last meeting at Oklahoma City (11/28/12), led all bench scorers tonight with 19 points (6-14 FG, 5-8 3FG).