Thunder/Rockets games have long been amazingly physical, ever since Patrick Beverley did a number on Russell Westbrook in 2013, and maybe even longer than that. No blood was drawn tonight at the ‘Peake — at least, we didn’t see any being mopped up from the floor — but there were plenty of menacing snarls. Kevin Durant, for instance, didn’t seem at all pleased by having Trevor Ariza epoxied to his backside, and James Harden exhibited his long-standing talent for looking like he was fouled on just about every shot. (To be fair to the Beard, he was more efficient at the free-throw line than anyone else tonight: eight out of eight.) Of course, the game was close all night: OKC up by one after the first quarter, Houston by one after the second, OKC by one after the third, and enough lead changes to make your head spin. With half a minute left, the Thunder had the ball and a four-point lead; a Durant free throw made it a five-point lead, a Jason Terry trey cut it to two, Durant dished to Andre Roberson for a dunk, a Harden trey cut it to one, Serge Ibaka hit one of two freebies. Then Dion Waiters (!) popped the ball away from Dwight Howard, Westbrook snagged it, Harden fouled him — his sixth — and Westbrook calmly, to the extent that Westbrook does anything calmly, sank two free throws and the Rockets with them, 111-107.
Harden, who played longer than anyone else (40:23), did come up with 24 points, game-high, and 16 assists, a personal best. All the starting Rockets scored in double figures, as did reserve Michael Beasley, who knocked down 11 points in 15 minutes. The long ball served the Rockets well, the Thunder a little less well: Houston made 13 of 37, OKC 8 of 35. (Wait a minute. Seventy-two treys? Is this artillery school?) Somewhere in the second quarter, I decided that if Westbrook got another triple-double, which would have been his 15th of the season, this game was a cinch. And Westbrook delivered, to the tune of 21-13-15. KD had a KD-ish 23; when was the last time he scored less than 20? And the OKC bench was either wonderful (Waiters 17, Enes Kanter a 10/10 double-double) or absent (Randy Foye took five shots, four of them from beyond the arc, and missed them all).
Next time (3 April), these two teams meet in Houston. In the meantime, the Thunder have to deal with the Jazz and the Spurs at home before going back on the road.