Thunder vs. Houston Rockets Game Recap – Jan. 29, 2016

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Sitting in the press conference room 105 minutes before tip-off, Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan said after a grueling four-game road swing, the team would need some major energy against the Houston Rockets, even at home. After a frustrating start to the game, the Thunder got re-fueled by its fans, and ran away with victory in the second half.

It was a 116-108 victory for the Thunder, whose defense was consistently strong for large portions of the night, while its offense was selfless and efficient. On the night, the Thunder held Houston to just 37.9 percent shooting, while out-rebounding the Rockets 57-40. On the other end of the floor, the Thunder shot 47.7 percent, while making 8-for-19 shots from behind the three-point line.

“We did a lot of good things tonight on both sides of the ball,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “Overall it was a good win for us coming off of those four games on the road where we talked about trying to get better defensively.”

“The whole game the defense was really good,” Durant explained. “They were 9-for-39 from the three and most of them were contested. They shot 37 percent from the field. That’s the formula.”

 

 

Trailing by two late in the third quarter, the Thunder burst through with a quick 8-0 run to take control, and a lead that it never relinquished. Enes Kanter started it off with one of his patented offensive tip-ins where he controls the rebound enough to tap it to himself off the back board, then into the basket.

After that, Russell Westbrook went to the foul line and made two shots before Kanter stripped James Harden of the ball, leading to a run-out and a Kevin Durant dunk.

 

 

One play later, Kanter finished on a reverse layup from Westbrook, completing the run.

“We were being tough,” Westbrook said. “We did a good job of staying together through tough times. It got a little junked up at times but we did a good job of sticking together.”

The Thunder’s job wasn’t done yet, however, even after building a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter. The Rockets kept threatening, but unlike in the first half, the Thunder seemed to always have an answer, be it on a tough Kyle Singler three-point play at the rim or a Westbrook-Durant high-pick-and-roll that ended with the latter draining a three-pointer.

Perhaps the most crucial of the Thunder’s plays down the stretch, however, were the defensive stands made by Durant on Harden, who stuck to him like glue on the perimeter, forcing him to give up the ball down the stretch. In fact, Harden didn’t score a field goal in the final six minutes of action.

 “You get a lot of help. You just play as hard as you can and force them into tough shots,” Durant said. “That’s all you can do and that’s all I did tonight.”

Despite playing without two rotation players in Andre Roberson and Cameron Payne, the rest of the Thunder roster stepped up, getting contributions from every player who touched the floor. Dion Waiters, in his third straight game in the starting lineup in place of Roberson, played another excellent game by scoring 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting and making James Harden work for every bucket. Over the last three games since joining the starters, Waiters is averaging 15.3 points on 18-for-33 shooting.

“I love his sprit that he’s playing with right now,” Durant said of Waiters. “He wants to guard the best guys. He’s shooting the ball from the corner really well. I’m excited for him and happy that he’s getting the opportunity to showcase what he can do in the starting unit. It’s tough that Andre is not out there. We definitely want to see one of our brothers healthy, but Dion is taking advantage of his opportunity.”

 

 

Enes Kanter was a revelation in the second half, scoring all but two of his 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting over the final two periods of play. Kanter was in the right place on the defensive end and was able to impact the game with his offensive rebounding and ability to finish around the rim.

“They want me to go out there and bring energy, touch every rebound and be effective on the defensive end, so that was my focus tonight,” Kanter said.

The catalysts for the Thunder, however, were the usual suspects. Russell Westbrook notched his sixth triple-double of the season with 26 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds, while Durant knocked down 11-of-18 shots and went 9-for-9 from the free throw line on his way to 33 points and 12 rebounds.

 

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Second Quarter Comeback

It seemed like every loose ball was going the Rockets’ way through the first quarter and a half, and that every time the Thunder made a run, the ball would squirt away to give Houston an extra possession or an easy bucket. That all changed thanks to some strong defense and some resolve to change the momentum.

“We got some stops when we needed to, cut the lead down and started playing the way that we play,” Westbrook said. “Good speed, good pace helped us out.”

 

 

The Thunder trailed 50-38 with 4:53 remaining in the half, but Westbrook hit Durant for a layup in the half court to help kick-start an 11-3 run that cut Houston’s lead to just 53-49 with 2:14 to go. It did a good portion of its work during the run at the free throw line, but a key play in the stretch was a Durant to D.J. Augustin corner three-pointer, just the second three he had attempted since December 27th.

On the next possession, Westbrook again found Durant for a dunk, this time in transition, nearly lifting the roof off of Chesapeake Energy Arena. After that stretch, Donovan had the Thunder foul Dwight Howard four times, and the Rockets big man made just 2-of-8 attempts to close out the half. While the Thunder never took the lead during that run, it certainly completed the task of erasing the Rockets’ 12-point advantage and in changing the vibe of the game.

“We persevered through the game. It was a little junky there,” Durant said. “We just stuck with what we do. We got stops and forced them into tough shots. They want to shoot threes and get layups and we closed all of that off tonight. We were there on the catch on those guys and we didn’t let them play freely. When we do that, we’re a scary team.”

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By the Numbers

6 – Triple doubles for Russell Westbrook on the season thanks to a 26-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound effort

22- Points for Enes Kanter, including 20 in the second half alone, on 9-for-16 shooting

57-40 – The Thunder’s rebounding advantage on the night, thanks to four different players grabbing at least 10 rebounds

 

 

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The Last Word

“Our guys kept sticking with it. As the game wore on our defense got better and better and got more consistent.”  - Head Coach Billy Donovan

 

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