The Houston Rockets had a couple things working in its favor in Friday (Apr 4) night’s showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder played Thursday night in San Antonio.
The second night of a back-to-back in Houston left Russell Westbrook to nurse his knee. And that left the Thunder exposed—just exposed enough in fact that the Rockets were able to defeat Scott Brooks’ squad 111-107 for its 50th win of the 2013-14 NBA season.
The Thunder were clearly not the same team without Westbrook at the helm. Though Kevin Durant carried the team for a long stretch without its playmaker, Kevin McHale instructed Chandler Parsons and the other Rocket defenders perfectly on how to stop one of the best small forwards in NBA history.
Durant was 2-of-7 from the floor at the half with four turnovers, and the Rockets led by five at the half. Parsons denied Durant the ball and effectively made the game a 4-on-4 contest between the other eight players on the court.
It worked brilliantly. The Rockets stormed out to a 14-4 lead to start the game before Scott Brooks called timeout. The Thunder responded with a run to get back in the game, but the Rockets held an edge for the majority of the game.
Terrence Jones had a monster first half, with 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks at the half. He scored six more in the second half to finish with 16. Jones’ return to the lineup was welcome; Donatas Motiejunas played just six minutes with Jones back in the fold. Jones at this point is looking as though he definitely could evolve into a more coachable version of Josh Smith, and that has to please Rockets fans as he could be the answer at the 4-spot.
James Harden was aggressive against his former team and attacked the basket the entire night. Harden started the night in foul trouble, picking up two fouls in the first quarter, but he got things going when he stepped back on the court. Harden shot 9-of-22 from the floor but hit 17-of-20 from the free throw line, including three free throws late on a (questionable) foul he drew.
Ultimately, this game can’t really be pegged as a preview of any potential playoff matchup between the clubs. The Rockets were playing without starting center and All-Star Dwight Howard, starting point guard Patrick Beverley and reserves Omri Casspi and Greg Smith. And the Thunder were without Westbrook, which placed undue strain on Durant.
Even so, Parsons’ defense against the three-time NBA scoring champ was very encouraging and Parsons also chipped in 23 points on the offensive end, nearly matching Durant’s 28. And if Parsons can score within five points of the MVP candidate in a playoff series, or come anywhere close to matching that production, this could very well be a team that Houston can defeat in the playoffs.