NBA.com’s Randy Renner is even referring to Chesapeake Energy Arena as “The Peake”, so I might as well drop the apostrophe and quotations when I use it moving forward. I have a feeling that name will take off big in the next season or two.
Renner gave me a great laugh yesterday however as I was gathering material for this postgame. In the Rockets-Thunder notebook, he described the Thunder defense as having “returned from an extended All-Star break”. Well, they certainly showed up at “The ‘Peake” against James Harden, Dwight Howard and the rest of the Rockets squad. Although Patrick Beverly and his two incidents involving Russell Westbrook in the 1st quarter provided all of the fuel the Thunder would require, as Renner points to those incidents in particular (which I would agree with) as the turning point of the ball game. They certainly got not only the squad fired up, but the entire Oklahoma City crowd as well. But to really put them in perspective, allow me to set the backdrop for a moment.
Westbrook scored the game’s opening 2 points off of a Kevin Durant assist, followed by the Rockets rattling off 7 straight points. This 7-2 lead would eventually prove to be the Rockets’ largest of the game, but I digress. The Thunder would then answer with 6 straight points to reclaim an 8-7 lead. After trading buckets, the Rockets would hit another 5 unanswered points to claim a 14-10 lead. James Harden had just made a 3-pointer, and Westbrook calls for the timeout when Beverly goes for the late steal in a way very reminiscent of how Westbrook received his knee injury that required a surgical hat trick to fully repair. Westbrook responded with a shove, and then Beverly shoved back, earning himself a technical foul with 6:10 remaining in the 1st.
That incident alone would have been enough to light the Thunder’s collective fuse, but Beverly apparently felt as though he didn’t do enough. Following his lone basket of the game, Beverly goes for another steal against Westbrook, sending both players crashing to the ground. Then, in an I’m-not-exactly-sure-what-you’re-trying-to-prove type of move, Beverly decides to wrap Westbrook up and try to pin him to the court. The officials decided that this was the time to let Beverly know that this type of play was not going to be tolerated, and subsequently slapped him with his first personal foul at the 5:07 mark.
All of this went down towards the beginning of an 11-3 run, which ironically saw Beverly score his only 2 points of the game (a run that was 8-1 following Beverly’s made basket). This run resulted in a 21-17 Thunder lead with 2:32 to play in the 1st. Then an odd 4-1 Rockets run that consisted of all free throws brought them to within 1 (22-21), before a Caron Butler jump shot off of a Derek Fisher assist would briefly break the monotony. The rest of the 1st would end with both teams trading free throws.
The 2nd opened with 3 more Rocket free throws, ending a strange period that saw Butler’s 2 points as the only points scored that didn’t come off of free throws following Durant’s diving bank shot with 3:36 left in the 1st quarter. If you count the 3 by Durant before his diving bank shot, just after Beverly’s only made bucket, you have a period where, despite the Thunder outscoring the Rockets 13-11, all but 4 Thunder points came off of free throws for both teams. Apparently The Thunder defense got so fired up following Beverly’s actions against Westbrook, that the Rockets would go on to miss their next 12 shots from the field. The Rockets went so cold, they even ran into trouble at the foul line, going 11-for-17 at the charity stripe during that period. But even though the Rockets’ last 11 points came from the free throw line, they were still enjoying a 28-27 lead with 9:14 to play in the first half (which would end up being their last lead of the game). That’s when the Thunder went up-tempo, and sparked a 23-5 run that established a 17-point lead with 3:46 remaining in the 2nd. The Rockets tried to push back, but the Thunder lead was 15 (56-41), heading into halftime.
The 3rd started with 3 points from the Thunder, which extended their lead to 18 (59-41). This would prove to be their largest lead of the game however, as the Thunder proceeded to do what they do best. Up 18 with about 22 minutes of basketball left, the Thunder once again decide to sit back. The Rockets immediately take advantage of this decision with a 12-4 run that closed the gap to 11 (63-52) with 7:17 left in the 3rd. After a 7-2 Thunder run reopened the lead to 16 (70-54), the Rockets would respond with 7 unanswered points to pull within single-digits (70-61) for the first time since the 5:28 mark of the 2nd quarter. And this turnaround happened so fast, there was still 2:58 left in the 3rd quarter. The 3rd would end with both teams trading shots, and the Thunder hanging on to a 77-67 lead.
The 4th opened with a Rockets run that started on Jeremy Lin’s floater with 36.8 seconds to play in the 3rd. That run ended at 9-2, pulling the Rockets within two possessions (79-74) with 8:44 left on the game clock.The Thunder pushed back, scoring 7 unanswered to push the lead back to double digits (86-74) with 7:39 to play. 5 unanswered Rockets points would subsequently end up rebutted by 6 unanswered Thunder points, but the Rockets would make a late push with a 13-5 run that had them once again looking at a two-possession game (97-92) with a mere 2:25 remaining. 2 Durant free throws were answered at the other end by a Francisco Garcia driving jumper. That’s when Beverly was whistled for the foul that would end the Rockets’ chance at a comeback, catching Westbrook mid-air and mid-fall behind the 3-point arc. Westbrook would go on to hit all 3 free throws, establishing an 8-point lead (102-94) with 1:31 to play. 8 points would prove to be the difference, as the Thunder claim a 106-98 victory that puts them at 47-17 for the season while claiming their 4th straight win at home. Meanwhile, the Rockets fall to 44-20, as their 5-game winning streak ends up snapped the moment they take it on the road.
In this postgame video they talk about how reputation got Beverly a bad call to end that game. Sorry, but after the two stunts he pulled in the 1st quarter, I can’t say I feel bad for him.
Durant’s 42 points not only led all scorers, but marked his 11th 40+-point game of the season. He also tied a career high by scoring 25+ in his 29th consecutive game. Westbrook not only added 24 points, but Serge Ibaka had a strong 12-point, 16-rebound performance that marks his 23rd double-double of the season. New addition (and turning into quite the bench scorer) Caron Butler was even nice enough to add 11 points from the Thunder bench.
The Rockets’ starters struggled mightily from the field. Harden posted 28 points, but shot only 9-for-21 from the field, including 3-of-7 from downtown. 7 of Harden’s points came from the charity stripe. Chandler Parsons scored 19, but they came off of a 6-for-17 shooting performance that also saw 3-for-7 from beyond the arc. 4 of Parson’s points were also foul shots. Howard posted 10 rebounds, but was held to a mere 9 points off of 4-for-12 shooting, including a dismal 1-for-6 from the free-throw line (Big props to Steven Adams for the defense he played there.). The only real bright spot for the Rockets came from their bench, as Garcia dropped 11 points off of 4-for-5 shooting, which included 3-of-4 from 3-point land.
Tonight the Thunder look to prove that Sunday’s 114-100 loss to the Lakers was a mere fluke. A win tonight will not only mark the 5th straight home victory, but will claim a 3-1 season-series victory over the Lakers. The Thunder took the Dec. 13th match-up with a convincing 122-97 final, but barely held on to beat the Lakers during their first trip to LA, squeaking out a 107-103 win. If the Thunder defense and the home crowd can be as intense as they were two nights ago, the Thunder should get their win back. The game is scheduled for an 8:30 CST tip-off, but seeing as TNT has picked up the game for the back-end of tonight’s double-header, a 9:30 CST tip-off is far more likely. Not near a TV? You can still catch the action via WWLS, The Sports Animal.