When you are in a rut the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t exactly the team most players would pick to get out of it, except maybe if you’re James Harden. Having been drafted and spending his early years with the Thunder and with his good friends Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook still playing for the Thunder perhaps it provided extra incentive for Harden.
Houston came out exactly as one would expect, with energy and playing desperate. Harden specifically came out looking focused and on a mission though it was noticeable he wasn’t playing with his typical confidence as his shot continued to miss the mark early. Specifically his 3-point shot still wasn’t falling, but at least he shot 50% from the field in the first quarter. Conversely Dwight Howard looked about as rusty as a player could get missing all but one of his first 6 shots (even the gimmes in close).
The other obvious take-away was how much the Rockets were pressing to try and get a win. Shots that would normally fall weren’t as the players gave just that little extra which resulted in missed field goals or gimmes in close.
The Rockets started Thornton again who fills in better than one would imagine, however it does beg the question for a team trying to improve defensively it sure puts a lot of stress on Ariza and Howard to do a lot given Harden, Lawson and Thornton aren’t necessarily known for their defensive prowess.
Despite that fact the Rockets jumped out to a quick 7-0 start before the teams settled in and the Thunder eventually took a 5 point lead. What was different on this night is the Rockets didn’t hang their heads, rather they responded by trying to keep the defensive pressure on.
By the time the teams exited the court at the half Oklahoma had built an 11 point lead and Harden had finished the quarter with back to back deep shots. With Durant slacking off him as if to say “hey you ain’t hitting that shot” Harden took both shots without hesitation and although one was later ruled a 2 it gave Harden the confidence he looked to be lacking. Howard also started to look more at ease during this frame hitting 50% of his shots.
The second half had the feel of a playoff game as the teams traded momentum changing runs, the super stars put their stamp on the game and ultimately Harden rediscovered his shot and his swagger.
Harden found his mojo tonight facing his former team and proved when he is functioning at the top of his game so too are his teammates. His final stat line 37 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. More importantly he was 12 of 26 from the field and rediscovered his 3-point shot.
Howard who started rusty going 1 of 6 in the first quarter finished with 16 points (6 of 13) adding 8 rebounds, 2 steals and 4 blocks. Notably he was sent to the line with the Rockets up 3 and hit both free throws.
Trevor Ariza though still having his own issues from beyond the perimeter provided solid defense and the intangibles Clutch City has become accustomed to.
Ty Lawson without a doubt had his best game as a Rocket with 14 points, 5 rebounds, 11 assists (to give him a double-double) and 4 steals. He was actively penetrating the paint and looking for his teammates on offense. Though he’s still figuring out the offense there were definite signs of how devastating Lawson and Harden will be to opposing defenses once they get more comfortable with each other.
Patrick Beverley: though it was his shot that put the Rockets ahead I found he played a poor game, trying to play antagonist to Westbrook late in the match which resulted in the Thunder evening the score and could have cost the Rockets the game. Perhaps he’s having issues adjusting to the bench, but he needs to keep his head in the game for Houston to win. There is an opportunity for Beverley to make the second unit special, but he needs to find a way to utilize the speed of his reserve partners and 3-point prowess. If he does that he might find himself playing more minutes with Harden and Lawson. Of note, Beverley was a team worst minus -9 in the plus/minus differential; for a defensive specialist that’s a problem!
Corey Brewer: it’s like a broken record, but how many times has Corey Brewer made a difference in Rockets wins? When Houston could easily have lowered their heads in defeat he was the offensive and defensive catalyst who initially swung the momentum. He finished with 12 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.
The Thunder were led by their 2 superstars:
Kevin Durant scored 20 first half points, but had only 9 in the second half and still looks a little rusty which is to be expected. The real star for the Thunder was Russell Westbrook who was 2 rebounds shy of registering a triple-double (25 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists). Showcasing how pivotal he is to the Thunder, it was when he had to sit after picking up his 4th personal foul that the Rockets got back in the game.
Durant: 20p (7/12) including 4 from 3. Thunder leads Rockets @ half 65-54. Here's 1 of KD's 3s, off pass from Russ. pic.twitter.com/sH6HxZVB1A
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) November 3, 2015
Notable Half Time Team Stats:
- The Rockets shot 16.7% from three while the Thunder shot 72.7%
- OKC out rebounded the rockets 32-19
- Houston was moving the ball better with 14 assists (OKC: 10)
- The Rockets also led in the steals category (10 to 7)
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- As the old adage goes miss until you shoot, shoot until you miss. The turning point for James Harden was the 2 shots he took to end the first half as he looked much more at ease and aggressive offensively in the second half.
- As soon as Russell Westbrook left the game due to picking up a 4th personal foul (which should have gone on Adams) the Rockets went on a 14-2 run.
- While the Rockets offense has looked mired in mud this season when Houston is swarming on defense there are signs of what the potential for the offense could be. Key to their success will be aggressive defense and as our pregame analysis keeps alluding to: the Rockets need to crash the boards and rebound. When they do those two things their offense runs with flow and pace.
- Though the Rockets still need to improve their rebounding the difference in the 3rd quarter was tied to the aggressive defense. By the end of the third quarter the Rockets had accumulated 16 steals and finished the game with 18!
Beverley fakes Westbrook, hits the three, stares him down. https://t.co/03psHc633h
— Rockets Insider (@Rockets_Insider) November 3, 2015
- Further proving the point regarding rebounding the Rockets finished the game with 34 (over 2o less than OKC who grabbed 55). Imagine how lethal the Rockets offense will be if they can raise their rebounding to the upper tier!
- Punctuating the energy the Rockets brought to the court they won both the points in the paint battle (56-48) and fast break points (16-9) which also highlights they were better on transition defense tonight.
While it’s just one win, it felt much bigger than that as the win gives the Rockets something to build from moving forward. More importantly James Harden got his mojo back and though the averages still aren’t where he wants them, those 2 shots taken at the end of the first half catapulted him back to the player everyone was clamoring for. Both Harden and the team as a whole need to use this win as a stepping stone and recognize there are still areas that need major improvements, but at least the monkey is off their back.
The other major take away is one of Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas needs to get on the court as soon as possible to avert further danger. Though Harrell tries, tonight proved he is still a rookie after all who needs time to develop and the better clubs will be prepared for him.
Next up the Rockets face the Orlando Magic at home on Wednesday who arrive in Houston on the back end of a back-to-back set as they play New Orleans tomorrow night. The Magic are another of the 0-3 teams though they’ve played well enough to be 2-1.
Make sure you catch up on our entire Team Preview Series, our Houston Rockets Player Profile Series as well as our SCS Round Table Sessions to help you get through the early season. Also catch our new daily feature Rockets Science which offers the best Houston Rockets news from blogs, as well as national and social media.