Happy Easter! It's James Harden Day in Oklahoma City.
@BillSimmons just let it go!— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) April 5, 2015
The Houston Rockets eked out a narrow 115-112 victory against the Thunder, and Harden had a 41-point game on 12-of-22 shooting from the field and 11-of-13 shooting from the line. It was his eighth 40+ game of the season, which I guess is why we keep talking about that trade.
Whenever the game pulled close, Harden was the one to yank his team back into the lead. With 3:12 remaining in the game, a Russell Westbrook three-pointer tied the game for the first time since early in the game, but Harden promptly responded with a personal 8-1 run.
The game was made interesting when Harden bumped into Westbrook and fouled out with 33 seconds remaining on. Down four points, the Thunder had a window to eke out a comeback, and timely threes from Westbrook and Anthony Morrow amid fouls to stop the clock gave them a chance to tie the game at the buzzer. No dice, though – Westbrook launched a 33-footer with Corey Brewer pressed up on him at the buzzer, maybe looking for the foul but failing to hit on anything.
Westbrook finished with his 11th triple-double of the season, recording 40 points himself to go with 13 assists and 11 rebounds. He got off to a good start, scoring 12 of the Thunder's 17 first quarter points and assisting on the other five, but a slow start from his teammates set the Thunder back early.
Harden and the Rockets fired the opening salvo, taking command of the game in the first quarter. Five minutes into the game, a Harden three-pointer preceded three consecutive alley-oops to Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones, sparking a 9-0 run within a minute and 13 seconds. The run swelled to 18 consecutive Rockets points before the Thunder responded on a pair of Russell Westbrook free throws with 3:41 remaining in the quarter.
Other players would hit their stride later on for the Thunder, including Dion Waiters with 10 points in the second quarter and Anthony Morrow with a trio of three-pointers in the third quarter. However, it took them until late in the fourth quarter, when Steven Adams fouled out and the Thunder went small with Waiters, Morrow and Kyle Singler in on the wings, for the Thunder to break within five points and make it close again.
Dwight Howard, who recently returned from injury on March 25th, chipped in with an efficient 22 points and eight rebounds. Interior defense has been a concern lately for the Thunder, and it reared its head again as Dwight had arguably his best game since getting healthy. Steven Adams and Mitch McGary got themselves into foul trouble trying to contain him in the post, while Enes Kanter didn't have the foot-speed to keep up with Howard on pick-and-rolls.
With this loss, the Thunder have given up three games in a row and five of their last six. They sit only a half-game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth seed, and get a matchup with the rolling San Antonio Spurs (winners of six in a row, pending tonight's matchup against the Golden State Warriors) on Tuesday.