The Oklahoma City Thunder (21-12) were defeated by the Houston Rockets (18-15) on Christmas afternoon in the Toyota Center. James Harden propelled the Rockets to victory with 41 points, as Paul George led the way for the Thunder with 28 points in the losing effort.
Both teams came out with stout defensive effort, as they were tied 22-22 after the opening frame. Russell Westbrook and George struggled in the first, combining to go 2-of-12 from the field. OKC’s defense impressed with four blocks in the quarter, with Jerami Grant being responsible for two of them.
The Thunder offense came alive in the second quarter, as OKC shot 61.5 percent from the field and outscored the Rockets 38-30. Westbrook carried the Thunder offense in the second, scoring 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field, including 4-of-5 from the free-throw line. The Thunder defense was nothing to scoff at in the first half, recording seven steals and nine blocks. All non-Harden Rockets combined to shoot 34.3 percent in the first half, but the reigning MVP found his groove and ended the half with 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting, including 3-of-6 from downtown. The Thunder led 60-52 going into the break.
Houston ripped off an 11-2 run to start the third to retake the lead 63-62 after Eric Gordon’s three found bottom. OKC started the quarter by going 0-of-7 from the field, as their first field goal didn’t come until the 8:41 mark. Harden’s big night continued, piling up 14 points, albeit on 4-of-11 shooting in the quarter. George brought the Thunder back on the high-side after scoring 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the third. The Thunder led 88-86 heading into the final 12 minutes.
Billy Donovan tried to steal a few minutes by having Westbrook, George, and Adams on the bench to start the fourth, as the score was tied at 93 when Westbrook checked in at the 9:18 mark. The Rockets strung together a 13-2 run to take a nine-point lead with 5:14 remaining after a Harden floater. The Thunder crawled back in after George’s transition three cut OKC’s deficit to four points with 1:40 remaining.
The Thunder got the stop they needed after Harden’s deep ill-advised three-point attempt didn’t fall, but OKC couldn’t capitalize as the following Westbrook turnaround fade away over Austin Rivers from the elbow wasn’t any prettier. The Thunder had yet another opportunity after George converted both free throws after forcing a turnover from Harden, cutting the OKC deficit to two with 43.6 seconds remaining. On the next Rockets possession, in typical Harden fashion, the MVP drained the shot clock all the way down before converting his floater attempt to put the Rockets up 112-108 with 20.4 seconds —remaining. Westbrook was able to earn a trip to the line with 15 seconds left after drawing the foul on Rivers, but missed his second freebie. Rivers returned the favor by converting 1-of-2 at the line the next trip down, sealing the 113-109 victory for the Rockets.
Harden’s Streak Continues: Harden recorded his seventh straight 30-point performance this afternoon, compiling 41 points (15-of-35 FG, 5-of-16 3P, 6-of-7 FT), six rebounds, seven assists, two steals, one block, and six turnovers. The Thunder were initially making life difficult for the former OKC sixth man, but it didn’t take long for the MVP to get going. He’s as good of an offensive player this league has ever seen.
Capela Can’t Be Stopped: The Thunder didn’t have an answer for Clint Capela on the glass today, as the Rockets center hauled in 23 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards. The Rockets took advantage by hitting far too many second chance three-point attempts. Capela also chipped in with 16 points (8-of-15 FG), one steal, and one block.
PG Carries the Load: As has been the case for the month of December, George led the way for the Thunder with 28 points (10-of-25 FG, 4-of-9 3P, 4-of-4 FT), 14 rebounds, two assists, three steals, and four turnovers. PG was struggling with his shot in the first quarter, but was able to go 9-of-18 from the field over the final three quarters. George brought the Thunder back with his play down the stretch, another topnotch performance on both ends.
Westbrook Sputters in Second Half: It was a tale of two halves for Good Russ/Bad Russ on Christmas 2018. Westbrook was in control, leading the Thunder to an eight-point advantage at the break after scoring 11 points in the second quarter on a relatively efficient 4-of-10 from the field, including 4-of-5 from the charity stripe. Bad Russ reared his ugly head in the second half, especially in crunch time, as poor shot selection and careless turnovers popped up. With the Thunder down four with a little over a minute remaining, Westbrook simply can not take a turnaround fade away. Tell me if you’ve heard this before, Thunder fans: the decision making simply needs to be better. The Brodie finished with 21 points (6-of-20 FG, 2-of-6 3P, 7-of-10 FT), nine assists, nine rebounds, six turnovers, four steals, and a block.
Christmas Day Block Party: The Thunder recorded season-high 11 blocks this afternoon, led by Nerlens Noel’s four and Grant’s three. The relentless effort out of those two has been a staple for the Thunder this season.
Three-Point Shooting: The Thunder failed to knock down some good looks behind the arc today, hitting on only 9-of-30 from downtown. OKC came into today ranked 28th in the NBA from deep, averaging 33 percent from downtown.
Free-Throw Shooting: Similar to the three-point shooting woes, OKC struggled from the line today. The Thunder made 14-of-21 (66.7 percent) of their free-throw attempts, as the poor shooting continues to cripple this team. The Thunder came into today ranked 28th in the NBA from the stripe, averaging 71 percent from the line per game.