In a game that turned out to be closer than a lot of people expected, the Oklahoma City Thunder squeezed out a 111-107 win over the Houston Rockets for their fifth straight victory. The Thunder improve to 49-22 and remain in sole possession of the third seed in the Western Conference. Houston drops below .500 at 35-36 and continues to hang onto one of the final spots in the west.
Stars Shine On Primetime
There were several main contributors in what was the first game of a TNT double-header. Russell Westbrook recorded his third-straight triple-double with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists. It's his 15th triple-double of the season, the most in a season since Earvin "Magic" Johnson finished the 1988-1989 year with 17, and his sixth in the last nine games.
Kevin Durant carried the scoring load for OKC. He finished with 23 points and seven rebounds. Both teams got production from all across the board. A total of 11 players scored in double-digits and all but two active players in the game registered points scored.
The Rockets got double-double performances out of James Harden and Dwight Howard. Harden, who battled an ankle injury, finished with a game-high 24 points, despite averaging over 35 points per game over the last four games against his former team, and a career-high 15 assists. Harden converted 7-17 shot attempts and was active with his hands, snatching four steals. Howard ended his night with 16 points and 13 rebounds. After receiving a verbal warming from the NBA's front office for his use of Stickum, Howard recorded one turnover, one block and made 7-8 shots.
With just over three minutes left to go in the game, Patrick Beverly hit a three from the corner right in front of the Oklahoma City bench to give the Rockets a 99-97 lead. Westbrook would begin to take over, as he scored 14 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. Westbrook scored back-to-back buckets for OKC on a steal and a fastbreak dunk and then hit a jumper to give the Thunder the lead at 103-99 with two minutes to go.
Video Credit: Ximo Pierto
The Rockets would make it 106-104 with under 20 seconds to go, but old defensive tendencies would come back to bit them. After the score, the Thunder inbounded the ball and Durant found Andre Roberson sprinting down the floor for the two-handed dunk to make it 108-104 with 18.7 seconds remaining.
Harden hit a well contested three-pointer to make it a one point game at 108-107 and Houston would send Serge Ibaka to the free throw line. Ibaka sank one of two attempts and gave the ball back to Houston down 109-107. With a chance to force overtime or steal one on the road, Harden took the inbound with 11.9 seconds to go. Harden forced an alley-oop pass to Howard that bounced off the center's hands and was recovered by the Thunder. Harden picked up his final foul after the turnover and after a pair of free throws from Durant, the outcome was set.
A Close Match Throughout
Neither team was truly able to pull away for extended periods of time. The game saw more than 20 lead changes with most coming in the second half. Houston started the game by attacking OKC and forcing turnovers on way to grabbing an early 23-16 lead. After the Thunder ended the first quarter with a 10-0 run, the score stood at 28-27 Thunder.
OKC expanded on their run and pushed it to 17-2 over the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second. The Thunder led 46-39 halfway through the second quarter, with help from sharpshooter Anthony Morrow who scored eight points and buried two of three deep ball attempts in the second. Houston would put together a late quarter run of their own, sparked mainly by Harden, taking a 56-55 lead into halftime after an 8-2 run giving them the lead. Harden scored 11 points and dished out five assists in the second quarter.
The Thunder used much of the third quarter to get back in the game after the Rockets opened up a 63-58 lead. Oklahoma City tied the game at 77 with over a minute left in the game and the two would head into the final frame with a 78-77 Thunder lead.
Dion Waiters and Ernes Kanter came up big for OKC throughout the game. Waiters scored 17 points with much of that coming in the third quarter. Kanter recorded a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double. For Houston, Beverly chipped in 16 points and Trevor Ariza added 13 points and eight rebounds. Both teams combined to attempt 72 three-point attempts, with Houston going 13-37 and OKC going 8-35.
Oklahoma City continues play tomorrow night against the Utah Jazz at home with tip time scheduled for 8:00 PM EST. Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets will not play again until Friday night when the Toronto Raptors come to town with the game commencing at 8:00 PM EST.