Carmelo Anthony was draining trailing three-pointers. Russell Westbrook knocked down his elbow jumper at a high clip. After a while, Paul George and Steven Adams got into the mix in their own ways. None of that offensive firepower could offset three crucial aspects of the Thunder’s 122-112 loss to the Houston Rockets: turnovers, fouls and Houston’s unreal firepower from behind the three-point line.
The first issue for Oklahoma City started right away, with three straight turnovers to start the game and five in the first four minutes of the game. It was a mixture for the Thunder as to why the giveaways racked up – some of it was playing with a slowed pace, attacking in isolation too much and some careless passing. By the time the night was through, the Thunder had 20 turnovers that led to 21 Rockets points.
“Offensively when we did shoot at the basket, I thought we were efficient,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “The unfortunate part is we turned the ball over too much really for the entire game. We need to do a better job of taking care of the basketball.”
“The turnovers came from a good place in a lot of them,” Donovan added. “We were trying to post feed our bigs versus their smalls at times. We didn’t do a great job receiving the ball. Maybe some of the passes were not great, but a lot of them came from the right idea, the right thing.”
Though it slowed the Thunder’s initial burst, it only delayed it. Midway through the first quarter Donovan’s club ripped off a 13-0 run to take a nine-point lead at 17-8. The Rockets got back into it by scoring in the paint on lobs over the top and floaters in the lane, and dominated the paint early.
In the second quarter the Thunder got a quick 6-0 burst on back-to-back three-pointers by newcomer Corey Brewer and backup point guard Raymond Felton, but Houston responded with a run of their own, and one that was much more potent. The same thing happened in the third quarter, when the Thunder began with a 14-5 spurt to close to within two points. It looked like Anthony’s rest in Portland was paying off, as he racked up 23 points on 4-for-10 three-point shooting to help lead the charge. In the process, Anthony also passed Jerry West, “the Logo”, for 20th on the NBA’s All-Time scoring list.
“I felt really good. Those three days helped,” Anthony said. “It’s a blessing to be on that list, top 20. I wish it would have came with a win tonight.”
“He got some really, really good looks. He had good bounce today,” Donovan said of Anthony. “He played well tonight. His effort was very, very good. He was giving great effort on defense as best he could and he certainly shot the ball extremely well in the first half.”
But Houston’s 17-for-33 (51.5 percent) three-point shooting on the night, many contested but some on scrambling rotations, was too potent for the Thunder to overcome. Even on 22 fewer field goal attempts, in part due to 22 turnovers, the Rockets managed to score 122 points on 38 made field goals.
The other reason that number is so out of whack was a 34-11 difference in Houston’s favor for free throw attempts in the game. A variety of factors caused it – some silly fouls in the backcourt by the Thunder, a few fouls on jump shooters and some intentional fouling in the fourth quarter, but regardless, the Rockets were rewarded for their aggression. Try as they did, Westbrook and George combined for just four free throw attempts in the game. Houston knocked down 29 as a team.
“The difference in the game was the three-point line and the free throw line,” Donovan admitted. “Certainly we didn’t get there enough. We probably put them there too many times. When you give them free throws and the three-point line, both of those things, that’s a hard combination to overcome.”
Chesapeake Energy Arena will get a work out as this week-long homestand continues, and the Thunder will need its fanbase to show up at full roar as it jockeys for playoff positioning down the stretch of the season. Next up on the schedule, a rematch from last Friday’s crunch time win over the Phoenix Suns. This time, the Thunder must defend home court to get back in the win column.
Highlights: Thunder vs. Rockets
By the Numbers
32 – Points for Russell Westbrook on 15-for-27 shooting to go with 7 assists
39-22 – Houston’s edge in bench points on the night, with two players in double figures compared to only Corey Brewer (10 points) for the Thunder
53.5 – Shooting percentage for the Rockets on the night as it went 19-for-32 in the paint
The Last Word
“Throughout the game, turnovers played a big part of tonight’s loss. Them going to the free throw line, I think in the fourth quarter they were in the penalty with eight minutes to go, so that always makes it tough. And then the three-point line, when a team like that is making threes it’s always tough because you’re in a scramble situation. Those guys beat us tonight and we have to accept that and move on and learn from it.” - forward Carmelo Anthony