With both their starting guards sitting out and no momentum at all after the All-Star break, the Houston Rockets got just the kind of victory they needed to break out of second-half slide.
Courtney Lee and rookie Chandler Parsons each scored 21 points, Patrick Patterson blocked Serge Ibaka’s point-blank putback attempt in the final 2 seconds, and the Rockets charged back from an 11-point deficit in the last 3 minutes to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-103 on Tuesday night.
Houston had lost six of seven and coach Kevin McHale said beforehand that ”the bottom line is we haven’t played well since the All-Star break.”
Maybe this is the turning point they needed.
”If it’s not this one, I don’t know what will do it,” said Luis Scola, who chipped in 18 points. ”It’s very difficult to get a win that will pump you up more than this one because of all the circumstances.”
Scola listed off all the adverse conditions, one after another:
– Starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out two to four weeks with a bacterial infection and backcourt mate Kevin Martin sat out with a strained right shoulder.
– The rumors have been growing before Thursday’s trade deadline around a team that nearly was part of a blockbuster Chris Paul deal at the start of the season.
– Too many losses after the All-Star break.
– The Thunder’s position as the best team in the West and impressive 18-2 home record coming in.
Then there was the matter of a 102-91 deficit with 2:29 remaining.
”It’s very difficult to get an emotional win better than this one,” Scola said.
Ibaka had three dunks, one on a putback and two along the right baseline on feeds from James Harden, as the Thunder pulled away by holding Houston without a basket for 5 1/2 minutes. His final dunk, a two-handed slam on Durant’s missed reverse layup, provided the 11-point lead.
It wasn’t over yet, though.
Goran Dragic answered right back with a driving layup to start a string of eight straight Houston points, punctuated by Lee’s free throw brought on by a technical foul against Oklahoma City All-Star Russell Westbrook. Westbrook rushed back to confront Dragic after he was fouled with 48.5 seconds left, then hit only one of two free throws that followed Lee’s shots for the technical.
Lee then drove for a layup to get Houston within a basket before stealing the ball from Westbrook to set up his go-ahead 3-pointer from the left corner with 15 seconds left.
”It’s never over. I’ve been in the NBA four years and I’ve seen some crazy stuff happen,” Lee said. ”We were just all out there just telling ourselves we’ve got to keep fighting and keep competing. It’s not over until the time runs out.”
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 28 points but missed a turnaround jumper from the top of the key in the closing seconds after fumbling the ball and recovering. Ibaka grabbed the rebound but his follow try was swatted from behind by Patterson to get the Rockets leaping in celebration.
Oklahoma City also had a fourth Ibaka dunk wiped off the board during Houston’s 13-1 closing stretch when officials determined after an instant replay review that it came after the shot clock expired.
”We just weren’t able to close it out,” said Westbrook, who had two turnovers, a missed jumper and the technical foul in the final stretch.
”They stuck around the whole game and found a way to win.”
Asked about the confrontation with Dragic that drew the critical technical foul, Westbrook stood silently and offered no answer. After one more question, a team spokesman cut off Westbrook’s interview less than 2 minutes after it started and the All-Star headed out of the locker room without answering a follow-up question on the run-in.
”I think we had this one in our hands throughout the fourth,” Westbrook said earlier. ”We just let it go at the end.”
Westbrook finished with 19 points and Harden scored 16 for Oklahoma City, which has lost two of three at home after a 14-game winning streak at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Thunder were limited to nine-fast break points, eight below their average.
”We’ve got to keep fighting no matter what. If we don’t execute on the one end, we’ve got to be better on the other end,” Durant said, rejecting the notion that Oklahoma City is getting bored in the dog days of the season.
”We’re an athletic team. We’ve got guys that can score, that can pass. It’s just a matter of us making the right play.”
Houston played without both of its usual starting guards for the first time all season. Martin missed just his third game and Lowry has been out five times, although three were against Oklahoma City.
Still, the Rockets took the lead with an early 14-3 run and then were able to keep the Thunder at bay most of the night, never leading by more than seven or trailing by more than four until the final 5 minutes.
Then, fill-ins Lee and Dragic came up with the big plays when it counted the most and Patterson closed it out.
”It means a lot for us only if it does what we think it will do,” Scola said. ”If we don’t carry over and this doesn’t give us confidence to get the next ones and build on it, it’s meaningless.”
Notes: Asked before the game if he considered Oklahoma City a championship-caliber team already or if a move was necessary by Thursday’s trade deadline, coach Scott Brooks said: ”I like our guys. I like the team we have. Still, we’re not where we need to be and we’re going to keep improving and we should. … I like our chances. I like our team. I’m excited about the opportunity.” … At 32-9, the Thunder had the best start in franchise history after 41 games – the usual midpoint of a full season. That’s one more win than the 1993-94 Seattle SuperSonics. … The Rockets finished a five-game road trip 2-3. Oklahoma City was 3-2 on its five-game homestand.