Thunder at Houston Rockets Game 2 Recap – April 19, 2017

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

HOUSTON – All night long, Russell Westbrook had been sensational. His Thunder teammates too, had done their part to help build a 15-point first quarter lead and then later a 12-point third quarter edge. Even to start the fourth and final quarter, Westbrook generated a quick 5-0 spurt to give the Thunder an eight-point lead.

But the Houston Rockets kept on coming. They go just eight deep in their rotation but the entire octet can generate high-efficiency baskets from either behind the arc or at the rim. As the evening went along, Houston’s shot-makers did just that, getting to the free throw line and knocking down some crucial three-pointers. Eventually, it was a 10-0 Rockets run that broke a 104-104 tie that slammed the door on the Thunder, and giving Houston a 2-0 series lead in a 115-111 Thunder loss.

“We have to be able to sustain that level,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said of the performance overall. “The one thing that was great in the first half is that we had really good ball movement, we attacked the paint and were shooting a high percentage. The things we tried to correct on both ends of the floor, for the most part in that first half we did a good job. We didn’t have as much consistency in those things in the third and fourth quarter.”

Westbrook registered the highest scoring triple-double in NBA Playoffs history with a 51-point, 13-assist, 10-rebound evening. He was sensational with the way he scored at will over the first three and a half quarters. Mid-range jumpers, drives to the rim and even more spectacular plays like a spinning, behind-the-back driving layup and then a one-legged bank shot were astonishing highlight moments for the MVP candidate.

Down the stretch, however, Westbrook struggled to maintain his hot shooting touch. Where he had been able to generate baskets for teammates like Andre Roberson under the rim, Steven Adams on lobs catch-and-shoot jumpers for Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson on rolls or post ups, Westbrook and the Thunder didn’t generate enough ball and player movement to be efficient on offense. Westbrook himself shot just 4-of-18 in the fourth quarter, and the Thunder’s offense struggled to keep up as a result.

“I have to do a better job of finding my guys and trusting in them especially later in games when things aren’t going our way,” Westbrook said. “We’ll look at film and find ways to do that.”

“He played, through the first three and a half quarters, at an incredible level,” Donovan reviewed. “Closing the game out there, he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in the fourth.”

The game started out nearly perfectly for Donovan’s club. It was 16-4 Thunder before Houston was forced to call timeout. Gibson feasted early, posting up Ryan Anderson over and over, while Roberson took advantage of sagging defenders by cutting into the lane with perfect timing.

Dre ! Thunder takes early 16-4 lead. Watch on Fox Sports Oklahoma.

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Donovan stuck with Roberson even with two fouls in the fourth quarter, and the decision paid dividends, as the Thunder took a nine-point lead into the second period and pushed its lead from four back out to 11 after a 7-0 burst highlighted by a McDermott runner and three-pointer, then Westbrook’s nasty spin move above the three point line then behind the back dribble at the free throw line to shake three defenders and generate a layup.

“We have to do it with ball movement and player movement and extra passing. I was really encouraged by that first half,” Donovan said.

At halftime, Houston with had taken just 13 three-point attempts, making four of them. After halftime, however, some of those contested shots started to fall, and the Thunder’s aggressive defense resulted in some unfortunate fouls out on the perimeter. The Rockets ripped off runs of 12-3 and 13-2 at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth quarter, respectively, regaining control of the game.

The Thunder gave themselves one more chance, however, pulling to 104-104 with 3:16 to go after two Westbrook free throws. James Harden hit two free throws on a night that he attempted 20, then Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon hit back-to-back three-pointers while Westbrook missed a fadeaway and two three-pointers, and Victor Oladipo missed a three as well. By the time Gordon’s fast break layup was called good on a goaltend with 1:22 to go, it was 114-104 Rockets, and the Thunder couldn’t erase that deficit before the final buzzer sounded.

“We probably didn’t have a few possessions coming down at that point that were great quality possessions,” Donovan noted.

In a lot of ways, the Thunder performed at a much higher level than it did in Game 1, yet still couldn’t quite wrestle away the victory down the stretch. Going back home, the Thunder will have a chance to chip back into the series deficit. Game 3 will be at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City at 8:30 p.m. CT on Friday night.

Highlights: Game 2 at Houston

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By the Numbers

37 – Free throw attempts for the Rockets on the night, who made 28 of those attempts. James Harden went 18-for-20 himself

48-37 – The Thunder’s rebounding edge, which led to a 20-9 advantage in second chance points

51 – Points for Russell Westbrook on the night, the most ever in a playoff triple-double in NBA history

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The Last Word

“We just have to have that sustained consistency against this quality of team for longer stretches. We’ve done that, we’ve gotten better and made some improvements.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan