Thunder roar over Rockets
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — With the way the Oklahoma City Thunder are clicking right now, even losing Kevin Durant to foul trouble couldn’t knock them off track.
Durant scored 32 points but was on the bench with four fouls when the Thunder took control late in the third quarter on their way to a 117-105 win against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
Oklahoma City won its fourth straight game, shooting better than 50 percent each time. And this time, the Thunder hit a season-high 57.7 percent of their shots.
“The shots are just falling for us,” Jeff Green said. “We’re getting great open looks.”
Green scored the first six points in an 8-0 run to finish the third quarter for the Thunder, and Eric Maynor’s jumper in the final 2 seconds made it 87-76 before Durant returned to start the fourth. James Harden tacked on a 3-pointer to open the fourth and push Oklahoma City’s lead to 14, and the Rockets were never closer than a dozen points after that.
The Thunder had been up six when Durant went to the bench with 6:45 left in the third quarter.
“We just had to make a run,” Green said. “We knew our guy was out and we just had to pull it together.”
Green finished with 21 points, Russell Westbrook scored 17 and Harden had 16. Thabo Sefolosha added a season-high 15 points and nine rebounds as Oklahoma City moved to 8-0 this season when he scores 10 points or more.
Kevin Martin scored 22 points and Luis Scola added 18 for Houston, which added swingman Terrence Williams from New Jersey and traded Jermaine Taylor to Sacramento in separate deals before the game.
The Rockets had won five of their previous seven games and were trying to win three games in a row for the first time this season. They started the season 0-5 and have been trying to dig out of the hole ever since, all the while playing without starters Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming.
“We are playing better and have a better rhythm as a team,” Shane Battier said. “I think we are 10-10 the last 20, which is a vast improvement from where we started. We still have a ways to go.”
Kyle Lowry added 15 points for Houston. Patrick Patterson, the 14th overall pick in this year’s draft, made his Rockets debut and had three points while playing in the final 3:38 after coach Rick Adelman pulled his starters while facing a 110-94 deficit.
Houston fell to 0-5 when playing the second night of a back-to-back on the road this season.
“They had a back-to-back, and they were probably a little tired,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “They’re a tough team to stop. They have so many weapons and they’re one of the best passing teams.”
In a game that featured two of the NBA’s top seven offenses, Oklahoma City came out ahead after a back-and-forth first half that featured big swings in both directions.
The Thunder had an early 13-2 run, only to have Houston immediately answer with 11 consecutive points to go back ahead. The Rockets went up by as much as 43-36 after Jordan Hill’s three-point play off a dunk, but Oklahoma City charged back with a 10-2 run.
The Thunder then took the lead for good with a stretch of 10 straight points, going up 58-52 after Durant followed his two-handed dunk with a 3-pointer from the right wing.
Harden said Oklahoma City has been adding new “wrinkles” to its offensive plays that have led to the recent improvement. He’s also been credited as being a catalyst off the bench, averaging 11 points in his last 10 games after scoring 7.9 per game up to that point.
“That’s what we need out of him. He’s a good playmaker,” Brooks said. “He can score and make plays for others, but he’s an average player when he’s hesitant. I think we got that out of his game.”
Brooks said Harden, the No. 3 pick in last year’s draft, is “starting to play the basketball that we know he’s capable of playing.”
“Every time he gets on the floor, he has to be aggressive for us,” Durant said. “As that sixth man, that’s what we need and he’s been doing that.”
Harden was also responsible for an odd blemish, though. Twice this season, Oklahoma City — the NBA’s top free throw shooting team — has missed out on a perfect foul shooting night with Harden providing the only miss.
The Thunder were 28 for 29 at the line, with Harden’s miss coming early in the fourth quarter.
“I was the only person that missed? Oh, man,” Harden said. “We practice our free throws every single day. We shoot more than any team in the league.”
NOTES: Durant, who led the U.S. to the gold medal at this summer’s world championships, was named USA Basketball’s male athlete of the year. … Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, in town for an event Thursday to encourage vaccinations for teenagers, sat courtside. … Martin, the NBA’s leading free-throw shooter at 91.9 percent, missed three foul shots in a game for only the second time this season. He was 3 for 6.
Updated December 15, 2010