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Recap: OKC Thunder 120, Houston Rockets 98

The Rockets have plenty of reasons for getting blown out by the Thunder. Unfortunately, none of that changes the fact that they’ve fallen below .500 once more and have a 1-7 record against the west. They managed to come within striking distance a couple times, but the better team won, and it wasn’t close.

The big narrative of the night, James Harden’s revenge against his old team, took a turn that was probably unexpected by most. The pessimists in the Rockets fanbase, however, won’t be surprised to hear that Harden’s ex-teammates were ready for him, blocking a mind-blowing 7 of his shots on the evening. Ibaka and Westbrook began the block party early, and Harden didn’t knock down a field goal until the third quarter. James put together a miserable 3-16 line by the end of the game, but somehow still managed to have more points (17) than shots. He had what will hopefully be his worst line all year. Or at least until the Thunder come into town in December.

Patrick Patterson notched a career high of 27 points on 11-18 shooting. A mere 6 rebounds in 38 minutes is less impressive, but he’s becoming nicely dependable on offense. He seems to be improving his 3 point stroke, and his post-up game is very gradually coming together. He will have to live down a minor bumble, though: late in the game he found himself open for a dunk and managed to boink it off the rim into the rafters.

Asik got another double-double for himself on the evening, with 17 points and 12 rebounds. The fact that this is beginning to look like a ho-hum line for him is extremely encouraging. His offensive game is also showing some improvement. At the very least, he’s far more willing to give it a go. He even drove the lane on one possession.

Lin looked like fade-away Lin. That’s better than the bad Lin who showed up in the 3-game slide, but not nearly as good as the good Lin we saw in the 3 win streak. 3-7 shooting (6pts) is mediocre, but 8 assists is decent. His 3 turnovers weren’t good, but were offset by an impressive 4 steals. He somehow regressed his form about a month for one game, and it may have something to do with playing against an aggressive Western Conference Team.

Chandler Parsons sat out this game due to a sore shoulder, and it hurt the team. Any Rockets fan could tell you that, but seeing it in action was painful. Daequan Cook took over his spot in the lineup (or maybe he took Harden’s, and Harden moved to the three? Harden was guarding Durant much of the game, to predictably grim results.). Cook clearly had something to prove to his old team, and wanted to be more than trade filler. Unfortunately, despite his 18 points on the night, he probably did as much harm as good. Those points were made on a rather inefficient 7-17 shooting, and he turned the ball over three times. His line doesn’t tell the story of how many times he killed possessions by trying to create against frankly better opponents. I don’t really understand why Morris didn’t get the start, since he’s shown real growth lately, and is at least a capable defender. Morris is also big enough to at least physically match up with Kevin Durant. This would happen later in the game, but every minute or Cook on the floor felt like ten. The Rockets seem to have a recurring problem with players named Cook.

The bench didn’t really play or perform well enough to warrant much note. What’s noteworthy is the fact that with the exception of Morris’ 30 minutes, the Houston bench logged a total of less than 23 minutes. And that’s including garbage time. Neither team had much inclination to play the bench, possibly due to the perceived import of the game. The Rockets, however, also just had fewer players available. Parsons, Delfino and Aldrich were all unavailable, limiting their rotation heavily, especially at the 3.

The game went about how everyone expected it to. The Thunder looked intense and driven to win. The ridicule they would receive for a loss and their own internal pride clearly spurred them to treat it almost like a playoff game. They made the Rockets defense look foolish, grabbed piles of offensive rebounds (15, though the Rockets somehow had 16), and shot right through the defense that was there. Martin in particular had something to prove, and it was sealed with a three a couple feet behind the line, right through a hand in his face. The Thunder weren’t interested in any mercy.

The Rockets, for their part, looked like a team that had gotten only a few hours sleep on a back to back. Oddly enough, that was exactly their situation. The Rockets flew to Minnesota after their Tuesday game against the Raptors, then flew to Oklahoma on Wednesday. They attended the funeral of Kevin McHale’s late daughter Sasha, who had struggled with Lupus. They wore their memorial green shoulder bands again, and clearly felt human compassion was their top priority in a devastating time for McHale and the entire organization. While it feels distasteful to mention these two things in the same sentence, their travel and lack of sleep likely had some impact upon their performance.

They fought hard, and wanted to get a win, but with the deck stacked badly against them, they had little shot. The Thunder didn’t just want the win; they needed it and they took it. Now the Rockets can only look toward a brutal five game stretch against Western Conference teams. They’ll have to try to push down the rookie mistakes that welled back up against the Thunder if they have any hope of staying near .500 in December.

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