The Oklahoma City Thunder (36-19) won their third game in a row on Saturday night in Houston, defeating the Rockets (32-23) by a final score of 117-112. The Thunder trailed by as many as 26 points in the third quarter before a monstrous comeback sparked by Paul George, Dennis Schroder, and Terrance Ferguson. Russell Westbrook recorded his ninth consecutive triple-double in the win, tying Wilt Chamberlain for the longest streak in NBA history. James Harden finished with 42 points for the Rockets.
George was the lone source of offense for the Thunder in the opening quarter, scoring 13 points on a perfect 5-of-5 (2/2 from three) shooting. Everyone outside of George combined to shoot 27.8 percent from the field. Oklahoma City was fortunate to be trailing by only one possession, as they had seven turnovers in the quarter. Houston led 28-25 after one.
The Thunder’s good fortune turned sour in the second, as the Rockets ran OKC out of the gym on both ends. Houston started the quarter on a 15-4 run after Harden’s and-one put the home team up by 14 at the 8:34 mark. Oklahoma City was unable to manufacture easy offense, struggling to the tune of 38.1 field goal percentage in the quarter. Jerami Grant and Steven Adams combined to go 2-of-10 in the first half, which simply wasn’t going to cut it against Houston’s undermanned front court. Harden was spectacular, as the Thunder had no answer for the NBA’s leading scorer. Despite tough defense by Terrance Ferguson and/or George, Harden had 25 points (7/16 FG, 4/8 3P, 7/8 FT) and the Rockets held a commanding 70-48 halftime lead.
The script was completely flipped in the third quarter. The Thunder roared out to a blazing start, hitting eight of their first nine shots, including 4-of-5 from three. Oklahoma City used the hot start to fuel a 16-2 run midway through the quarter after an Adams layup with just under five minutes remaining cut their deficit to nine. The Thunder closed out the quarter with a heatstroke courtesy of George and Dennis Schroder. George nailed back-to-back threes to pull the Thunder within seven with under three minutes to go in the quarter. Schroder carried the torch for OKC to close out the third, scoring 10 points in the final two minutes and change to send the Thunder into the fourth with the score tied at 90. The Thunder outscored Houston 42-20 over the 12 minutes of play.
The fourth quarter packed quite a punch for the ABC Saturday prime time audience. Oklahoma City pulled ahead with a six point lead after Nerlens Noel’s alley-oop with just over nine minutes remaining, but Houston had a big run left in them. The Rockets strung together an 11-0 run after Harden’s free throws at the 6:51 mark put Houston up 103-98. Westbrook struggled during Houston’s attack, missing four straight shots on as many Thunder possessions.
With the game hanging in the balance, the Thunder ripped off a 10-0 run of their own after Grant’s steal and transition dunk put the Thunder up 108-103 with 4:28 remaining. The Rockets tied the score with 3:43 to go after a Harden three and a pair of free throws by Chris Paul. After a couple of missed shots by Westbrook, including a transition layup, the Rockets pulled ahead by a bucket after Harden’s mid-range jumper with just over two minutes remaining.
Westbrook split a pair of free throws with 1:25 left, leaving OKC trailing by one. The Thunder then forced a stop, and George drew the foul attacking the basket with 52 seconds left. George converted both freebies and the Thunder pulled ahead by one. In typical Harden fashion, he answered with a tough floater, putting the Rockets back up with 31.8 seconds remaining. Despite his struggles in the final quarter, Westbrook immediately responded with an impressive drive to the lane after splitting the double team, putting the Thunder up one with 26.9 to go.
You knew who was getting the ball on Houston’s ensuing possession, as Harden got the switch he wanted on Westbrook. With the shot and game clock approaching zero, Harden heaved a desperation three and tried to draw the foul. The whistles didn’t blow, the three-pointer missed, and George secured the rebound before getting fouled with 3.4 seconds left. OKC’s lead was three after George’s free throws, giving the Rockets one last shot to tie it. Adams deflected the inbounds pass, having the ball bounce off Gerald Green’s finger tips before flying out of bounds. Two more freebies for George secured the Thunder’s nationally televised victory over their rivals from the Lone Star State.
MVPG: George was locked in a duel of MVP candidates tonight, coming out on top with the victory and the individual edge over Harden. PG scored 15 points in the final quarter, and proved clutch at the line in crunch time. Tonight was PG’s fifth 40-point game of the season, and he continues to play the best basketball of his career. When it was all said and done, PG recorded 45 points (12/22 FG, 6/14 3P, 15/18 FT), 11 rebounds, three assists, and a steal.
Record-Setting Russ: Tonight wasn’t Westbrook’s best performance, but that didn’t stop him from having the game-winning bucket when the Thunder needed him most. The Brodie recorded his ninth straight triple-double, tying Wilt Chamberlain for most consecutive triple-doubles in NBA history. Westbrook recorded 10 turnovers and was 0-of-5 from the field in the fourth before his game-winning bucket in the paint. In total, Westbrook ended his night 21 points (8/21 FG, 1/5 3P, 4/5 FT), 12 rebounds, 11 assists, two steals, and a block.
Fergalicious: Tasked with defending the NBA’s most lethal scorer for a majority of the night, Ferguson didn’t back down. The second-year man forced Harden into tough shots throughout and was crucial in leading the Thunder’s second-half comeback. After a sluggish opening half, Ferguson went 4-of-5 over the final 24 minutes, including 3-of-3 from downtown. The Thunder don’t win this ball game without Ferguson’s contributions on both ends.
Schrodie: The finishing touches on Oklahoma City’s game-altering third quarter came way of their backup point guard. In the final two minutes of the third, Schroder rattled off a three, nearly a second three, an and-one, and a mid-range jumper to send the Thunder into the fourth quarter with the score deadlocked at 90. Billy Donovan opted for defensive versatility in the final quarter, but Schroder’s heroics won’t go unnoticed in this one. Schroder ended his night with 17 points (6/13 FG, 1/3 3P, 4/5 FT).
MV-Beard: Harden recorded his 29th consecutive game with 30-plus points in relatively easy fashion tonight, despite the Thunder’s stout defensive efforts. The NBA has never seen another player like him that can score so effectively in isolation, while it certainly helps his cause that he is the beneficiary of many favorable whistles throughout the course of the game. It was terrific sports theater watching him and PG go at each other in what felt like a playoff atmosphere tonight in Houston. In total, Harden had 42 points (11/28 FG, 6/16 3P, 14/15 FT), two rebounds, an assist, and a steal in the losing effort.
PG on Russ after the win: