The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Houston Rockets on Christmas Day, 112-107. In a game well-suited for prime time, OKC and Houston put on a high quality showing that put an exclamation point on the annual tradition of the pleasure of NBA basketball that accents the holiday.
Billed not only as a rematch between last year’s 1st round playoff opponents, but also as a head-to-head battle between last year’s top two MVP candidates, Russell Westbrook outshone his former teammate and counterpart James Harden to deliver the Thunder one of its biggest wins of the season. Westbrook finished with 31-11-6 with 3 steals, including shooting 8-10 in the 2nd half to record 21 of those points. By contrast, Harden had a fair showing of his own, finishing with 29-14-8 against only 1 turnover, and he too finished strong with 18 and 7 assists in the 2nd.
However, it was the 4th quarter that drew biggest distinction, as Westbrook finished with 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists to close it out, while Harden could produce only 4 points on 2 for 5 shooting, and had his final 3-point attempt blocked by Andre Roberson.
Andre Roberson's game winning play, rejecting James Harden's game tying attempt before he & Russ team up to kill the game off. pic.twitter.com/fC6emsnvhN— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) December 26, 2017
The Thunder have now won 5 games in a row, and this one clearly underscored their discovery of better balance and consistency, little by little, step by step. In the always pivotal 3rd quarter, OKC produced 30 points on a staggering 13-15 shooting (87%), which included 5-5 from Westbrook, 3-3 from Paul George, and 2-3 from Carmelo Anthony. Even though they lost the quarter by a point, they took Houston’s best shot (Harden scored 14 in the quarter), didn’t waver, and it put them in position to systematically wear down the Rockets offense and defense in the 4th, as the top rated offense could only muster 19 points in the deciding frame. Despite some late game shot-making by Eric Gordon, the Rockets didn’t quite have enough to stay with OKC in the end.
It was a fantastic game between two teams led by two fantastic players, and we can only hope the trend continues.
- Paul George was quiet early on, but came on strong down the stretch and provided the exact kind of dynamic shot-making that the Thunder have lacked since #35 left. He knocked down 3’s (4-7) and mid-range jumpers off the dribble (24 points total). The high turnovers are still an eyesore, but it’s a great sign that he’s starting to find the shots he likes.
- Carmelo Anthony had perhaps his most efficient shooting day as a Thunder, finishing with 20 points on 8-12 from the floor, including 2-4 from 3-point range. Ah, but here’s the rub — a number of them were the exact kind of shot we’ve come to loathe — the off the bounce, pull-up, long-two kind. The difference was, he made them tonight, even as they were the kinds of shots a defense might be ok yielding. But to Melo’s credit — only 12 shots. Melo knew what he could get, and didn’t force it beyond.
- Steven Adams largely carried the Thunder through the 1st quarter while Westbrook was still struggling. However, the game was played at such a fast and aggressive pace, he was clearly winded down the stretch, something to keep an eye on because having a mobile center who can show and recover off of Houston’s rapid pick and roll sets is critical. As evidence, Clint Capela finished with 19 points, many of them dunks off of feeds and lobs.
- One bit of foreboding - the Rockets’ offense was visibly more advanced than the Thunder’s attack, producing far more shots at the rim and open 3’s than did OKC’s offense. OKC won the game, but there were clear lessons there to learn about what a more advanced offensive system can look like and the types of easy looks it can generate when run properly.
- Holy crap refs, how do you just let this go?
- And speaking of which...Andre Roberson, a continuing series. Yes, he actually banked in a free throw (as Russ rallied the crowd)...
Russ made sure the Thunder crowd cheered on Andre Roberson after he got intentionally fouled....and it worked pic.twitter.com/eOhduDrn8e— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 26, 2017
...And then airballed the next one. He was intentionally fouled twice, and it almost but didn’t cost his team. But he also finished with 8 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 blocks, and it was once again Dre’s Dance of Death with Harden that helped determine the outcome, including that game-ending block. Nobody else comes close to guarding Harden the way Robes does.
Merry Christmas to all of you, our wonderful and dear WTLC readers.
FINAL. The Thunder beat the Houston Rockets 112-107.— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) December 26, 2017
“Merry Christmas!” pic.twitter.com/rPECAjXjab