The first quarter was a story of speed vs. size. The Thunder had the obvious size advantage (as the tallest player in the Rockets' lineup was the 6'10" Jordan Hill). So initially, the Thunder used that advantage in order to get easy shots inside or easier jumpers in the mid-range. Later on, as the Rockets increased their pressure in the inside, the Thunder stepped outside for a few open threes. The Rockets used their speed advantage to get fouled down low and score difficult layups in the lane. Both strategies worked well, and the teams went into the second quarter all level.
The second quarter was much more physical. Both teams increased the pressure both inside and out, and plays would usually end up either beautifully, falling flat on their face, or with a hard, physical foul. The game got so physical that neither team scored for two and a half minutes. Then, Russell Westbrook got Ted up for pleading a little too much to the refs. He wasn't benched, and got to the line a minute or so later. He split his free throws, just in case you were curious. After the Westbrook incident, the game became less of a see-saw affair and more of an ebb and flow type of deal. The Rockets initially got successful by beating the Thunder in transition and took a sizable single digit lead, but the Thunder came right back with a three, a steal, and a couple of free throws. Eventually, things evened out, and the Rockets went into halftime with a two point lead, courtesy of a missed Sefolosha slam.
Below: The Third and Fourth Quarters, Awards!
The third started off on a bad note as Jeff Green was hit in the head by Scola's forearm as Scola backed him down, sending him to the bench and creating a rather odd post pairing of Nenad Krstic and Serge Ibaka. (Green would later return.) The post pairing helped create mismatches offensively, but it allowed the Rockets to get into transition much easier on the other end. Fortunately, it paid off on the Thunder's end, as the mismatches allowed easy points down low and open shots outside, while the Rockets forced shots way too often. The Thunder pushed their lead to 10, but the Rockets refused to go down, as Luis Scola absolutely exploded, scoring 13 points in a row and 15 in the quarter. The Rockets continued to find points inside with Patterson and Lowry, and before you could say "blown lead", the Thunder were leading only by three going into the fourth, 82-79.
The fourth opened with another Houston run. The bank was wide open for both teams, as seemingly every shot that went down hit off of the glass before it went in. But Chase Budinger led the scoring palooza with three straight baskets, and the Rockets eventually tied the game at 88 with a well-earned Jared Jeffries layup. But the Thunder roared right back, continuing to dominate the paint, emphasized by a whale of a dunk from Kevin Durant. It wasn't impressive in that "over someone else" type of way, but it was impressive in the "He just evaded four guys!" sense. He followed the play up with a jumper, and then made a deep three a few plays after that. Before you knew it, the Thunder were back up by 7 with 5:37 to go. A block led to another transition basket, and Durant got fouled for two more points. The Rockets failed to score again, and Kevin Durant scored another impressive-looking dunk. The Rockets had fallen behind by 13, and things were looking grim for them. But they hadn't given up hope yet. Courtney Lee hit a layup, Brooks and Lee both hit a three, and some more great transition play brought the Rockets to within two with 20 seconds to go. But Westbrook was fouled, and two free throws put the Thunder back up by four. Brooks was given an open layup, but Westbrook was immediately fouled, and put the Thunder back up by four with 11.9 seconds to go. The same thing was repeated again, and Harden sunk two free throws to put the Thunder back up by four again. This time, Aaron Brooks went for a three, but it clanked off the rim, and all was lost for the Rockets. The Thunder had won, for the first time ever in the Toyota Center.
The win puts the Thunder at 26-13, and they continue to be tied with the Jazz for the Northwest Division lead. Meanwhile, the Rockets drop 5 games below .500, and they're eager to start over again once all of their players are back from injury. The Thunder won the season series 3-1, and it is the first Western Conference series we have finished this year. The rockets could still be a potential playoff team, so it's a nice result to have.
On to the Awards....
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 23 Points, 8 Rebounds, 13 Assists, 2 Steals
Thunder Down Under: Thabo Sefolosha, 6 Points, 13 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 1 Steal, 3 Blocks
Thunder Blunder: Eric Maynor, 2 Points, 1-4 Shooting, 2 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 1 Turnover
Thunder Plunderer: Luis Scola, 31 Points, 11 Rebounds
Next Game: Versus the Orlando Magic, Thursday, January 13th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.