The Oklahoma City Thunder (21-16) dropped a heart breaker to the Houston Rockets (28-9) 118-116.
Russell Westbrook was on fire throughout, scoring a game high 49 points on 16-of-34 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and five assists. Westbrook even dropped a career high and an Oklahoma City Thunder record eight three pointers on 15 attempts.
After a hot start in the first quarter, the Thunder held a 14 point lead. For the remainder of the second quarter and the first 10 minutes of the third, the Rockets outscored Oklahoma City 57-30. The Thunder found themselves down as many as 18.
Westbrook never sat in the third quarter. A curious decision considering Billy Donovan’s consistency with Westbrook’s breaks. Surprisingly it paid off.
The bench, primarily Enes Kanter who finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, along with Victor Oladipo — 17 points — scratched and clawed the Thunder back into the game.
After being outscored by the Rockets 33-18 in the second quarter, the Thunder’s defense stiffened to a degree, resulting in a 33-21 advantage for the Thunder.
“We did a much better job of defending and rebounding the basketball in the second half.” Donovan told reporters. “We didn’t do a very good job defending in the first half because we sent them to the line 18 times.”
After a flurry of Westbrook layups and an Oladipo three, the game was tied at 116 with 3.7 seconds left.
James Harden — 26 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists — took advantage of a collapsing Thunder defense and found Nene rolling towards the basket where he was fouled on a dunk attempt. Nene made both free throws giving the Rockets the lead for good. A controversial play where it appeared Nene wasn’t even touched by Thunder defenders.
“I’m not saying if it was a foul or not,” Donovan said after the game “but I thought our guys fought hard to get us back into position to win.”
The final play saw the Thunder attempt a pass to Kanter for a tip in that failed to hit the goal.
On a second night of a back-to-back, the Thunder could have easily folded down 18 late in the third. It was an exciting game pitting the league’s top MVP candidates. The stars did not disappoint. Westbrook and Harden combined for 75 points, 17 assists and 16 rebounds.
The Thunder now have lost four of their last five games.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Defend the three D
The Thunder held the Rockets to 38 percent from 3 on 15-of-39 shooting. Every time the Thunder made a run, a defender would leave a shooter all alone for a back breaking three. Houston is on pace to shatter the NBA record for three point attempts and makes for a single season and Oklahoma City did little to stop both in critical moments.
Good Russ down the stretch B
Westbrook scored nine points in the fourth and assisted on the biggest shot of the quarter to tie the game. What people will remember the dribble-dribble-pull-up-jumper from three that just rimmed out for what would have been the lead with 3 seconds left. Westbrook got the Thunder back into the game but couldn’t quite finish.
Show up, Bench C
If it wasn’t for Kanter, the bench would have scored seven points. Jerami Grant, Alex Abrines and Semaj Christon didn’t help the Thunder much offensively. In a game where the Rockets played sloppy defense, the bench’s collective performance is disappointing.