Thunder at Houston Rockets Game Recap – Jan. 5, 2017

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

HOUSTON – The air had been sucked out of the building and it was tight and tense on the floor. Despite falling behind by as many as 18 points in the second half, the Thunder had rallied. Scratching and clawing in a furious fourth quarter charge, it was a tie game at 116-116 with 1:48 to go. Only two more points, a pair of free throws, were scored the rest of the way.

The Thunder had the first crack at taking the final lead of the game but Russell Westbrook’s 16-foot jumper missed, then the Rockets missed twice on the same possession. Back and forth it went, shots clanging awry thanks to tight defense like an Andre Roberson block of James Harden and then a missed three-pointer by Westbrook from the right wing with 5.7 seconds remaining over the top of Harden.

“I thought it was going to go in,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “It was right on line. He had his balance, he had his legs under him and it hit the back of the rim.”

Inside the final seconds that remained after Westbrook’s miss, four more timeouts were taken, and the only scoring that was done came on free throws by Houston veteran forward Nene, who slipped out of a screen, rolled to the rim and appeared to be blocked cleanly by the Thunder’s Jerami Grant. The whistle blew, however, and Nene drained both foul shots. The Thunder couldn’t quite get the ball inbounded the way it wanted to on the first try with 0.7 seconds remaining, then the lob to Enes Kanter on the far block resulted in a bat towards the bucket that fell shy.

In the end, it was a 118-116 loss for the Thunder. Thursday’s clash between the Thunder and Houston Rockets lived up to the billing of the rubber match between two high-level Western Conference squads that split last-minute victories in Oklahoma City earlier in the season.

Donovan’s club burst out of the gates to a great start, building a 31-17 lead most of the way through the first quarter.

Houston found its footing though in the final stages of the first period to make it 38-33 by quarter’s end. From there the Rockets really seized control behind the shooting of Eric Gordon, 18 first half fast break points and 18 first half free throw attempts, along with 30 points in the paint.

The second half was much, much different, particularly the fourth quarter, which the Thunder won 33-21. Houston scored zero fast break points, attempted just 12 free throws and scored only 18 points in the paint over the final 24 minutes. All the while, the Thunder was finishing off defensive stands with boards, racking up a 54-43 edge in rebounding on the night.

“We did a much better job of defending in the half court, defending, getting back and getting our defense set,” Donovan said. “Our rebounding was good because it enabled us to get back on the break and we didn’t give up many second chance points.”

“We pulled across, took a lot of that away and made them skip the ball back out to the three-point line,” Donovan explained. “We did a really good job of recovering and guarding the ball in the second half.”

The Thunder’s work on the boards was enforced by Kanter, who scored 15 points to go with a game-high 13 rebounds in just 22 minutes of action, 13 of which came in the second half. Victor Oladipo also got into the action, as he led the reserves on a 21-10 run to start the fourth quarter. Oladipo and Andre Roberson combined to score 31 points, but did it in drastically different ways. Roberson was seemingly everywhere around the rim with multiple tip-in buckets, while Oladipo knocked down four three-pointers and scored 14 of his 17 points after halftime to supercharge the comeback.

Victor Oladipo connects during the 4th quarter rally. U.S. Cellular highlight.

A video posted by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on

“It says a lot about us,” Oladipo said of the fourth quarter run. “We just have to continue to keep pushing and carry the good things that happened in the second half onto the next game and continue to keep getting better.”

The Thunder’s offensive engine tonight, however, was none other than Westbrook. The point guard extraordinaire scored 49 points on 16-for-34 shooting thanks to eight made three-pointers, a career-high and Thunder record. Although he missed his final one that would have taken the lead, Westbrook’s hot shooting and relentlessness kept the Thunder in the game throughout the night as the dynamic playmaker also racked up eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.

“Tonight with his shooting percentage from the three-point line, he was feeling pretty good from there,” Donovan said. “I trust him in those situations because I think of how hard he works, how well he’s prepared and how much he wants to win. When the ball is in his hands in those situations, I’m going to trust him.”

Thunder-Rockets Highlights: Jan. 5, 2017

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By the Numbers

8 – Made three-pointers for Russell Westbrook, a career-high and Thunder record, as he scored 49 points on 16-for-34 shooting

21-10 – The margin Thunder outscored the Rockets by to start the fourth quarter, the crucial stretch that made it a close crunch-time affair

54-43 – Rebounding margin for the Thunder, who turned 16 offensive rebounds into 20 second chance points

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The Last Word

“Our guys really battled back. We were down by as many as (18) and our second unit there at the end of the third and end of the fourth did a really nice job of cutting the lead in half. We got the starters in there and gave ourselves every opportunity to win the game.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan

Russ' night. Go to to send him to All-Star. Bud Light Photo of the Game.

A photo posted by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on


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