Riding a four game win streak and staring perhaps the most important game of the season so far, the Oklahoma City Thunder came into tonight’s home Christmas Day matchup with the Houston Rockets primed and ready to go. The Thunder did not waste any time when it came to scoring, and in a matter of a minute, Oklahoma City held a 7-0 lead over Houston.
The Thunder would maintain the seven-point lead for a couple more minutes before Andre Roberson would be forced to exit with some dislocated fingers. As soon as he went out, the Rockets were able to take advantage of the hole in the defense, and with a little under five minutes left in the first period, Houston tied it up with Oklahoma City at 22-22. The Rockets would continue to put on the pressure, and they would finish off the quarter with a 31-28 lead over the Thunder, despite Steven Adams putting up an impressive 12 points and six rebounds to start the game.
The Rockets came out in the second quarter with more offense as they scored five quick points to take an eight-point lead. The Thunder would fight back, and with 8:30 left in the first half, Russell Westbrook would finally hit his first shot of the night as Oklahoma City would tie it up at 38 apiece.
Houston would answer with a 7-0 run, but Oklahoma City would get the best of the Rockets the rest of the way. From that point forward, the Thunder would outscore the Rockets 20-12 behind Westbrook’s 10 points in the second quarter after going 0/6 in the first. Steven Adams would finish the half with 15 points and eight rebounds, Carmelo Anthony would tally 14 points and five rebounds, and Paul George would add nine points, four assists, and two rebounds as Oklahoma City would enter the locker room at the half with a 58-57 lead over Houston.
Oklahoma City kicked off the second half with some solid defensive pressure which led to easy scoring on the other end. Just two and a half minutes into the period, the Rockets were forced to call a timeout after the Thunder put together a 7-2 run, highlighted by an Andre Roberson steal which was turned into a Russell Westbrook dunk.
The Thunder would score again to push their lead to 67-59, but the Rockets would not stay down for long. With just a little over five minutes left in the third quarter, Houston would tie it up at 73-73. The lead would go back and forth for the rest of the period, and at the end of the third quarter, the game was all tied up at 88-88.
The fourth quarter would start with a mixture of good defense and sloppy offense by the Thunder. Three minutes into period, Oklahoma City had not yet scored, but the Rockets were only able to put up three points. Russell Westbrook would check in slightly earlier than he normally does, and he would immediately go to work. After being fouled and knocking down two free throws, he would grab a steal and take it coast to coast to hit a layup plus a free throw on the three-point play. With eight minutes left in the game, the score was 93-93.
Houston would quickly retake the lead after Eric Gordon was fouled on a three-point attempt. His three free throws put the Rockets up 96-93, but not for long. Oklahoma City would then go on a 6-0 run to take a 98-96 lead, and despite Houston’s best efforts, the Thunder would hold on until the finish. Andre Roberson would prove to be clutch on the defensive end as he would help force two turnovers and score the go-ahead bucket to give Oklahoma City a 112-107 Christmas Day win over the Houston rockets.
3 Quick Thoughts
- Are We There Yet? The Thunder has been playing its best basketball of the season by far lately, and people are starting to notice. Tonight’s win makes it five in a row for Oklahoma City, and in the month of December, the Thunder rank third in the league at 10-3. While there is always room for improvement, the Thunder’s run over the last few weeks has been quite impressive. Not every win has looked good, but lately, the Thunder has been able to finish strong on a consistent basis, and they clearly do not back down from a challenge. Knocking off the owner of the league’s best record was impressive, but there are plenty more opportunities on the way. Oklahoma City needs to continue playing with the ferocity that they have maintained lately, and if they can do so, opposing teams should beware, because there just might be something special in the works.
- Offense on the Upward Rise: For much of the season, the Thunder offense has been downright awful. Considering the firepower that this team has, there is no excuse for the inability to score on a high level. The offensive issues, however, seem to be resolving themselves as of late. During the team’s five-game win streak, the Thunder has had an offensive rating of 115.0, which is the league’s best in that time frame. A major part of the improvement has been Russell Westbrook’s consistency in shooting the ball. For the fifth time in six games, Westbrook shot at least 50% from the floor. Tonight, he finished with 31 points on 12/24 from the field and 7/8 from the free throw line, while also adding in 11 assists and six rebounds. Another key to the improvement has been Carmelo Anthony. He had one of his best shooting nights tonight since putting on a Thunder jersey as he put up 20 points on 8/12 from the floor. Paul George chipped in 24 points on 8/15 from the field, and Steven Adams added in 15 points on 7/9. While these types of nights are not typical, they are necessary to beat great teams like Houston, and they are undoubtedly a good sign that this offense is trending in the right direction.
- Defense Continues to Come Through: Getting into a shootout with the Houston Rockets is not exactly what a team with a typically struggling offense wants to do, and at times, it looked like that might be the case. In the end, it didn’t matter how many shots the Oklahoma City offense was able to knock down, and that’s okay, as the Thunder defense is ultimately what put the game away. Oklahoma City finished the game with nine steals and 10 blocks. The most notable defender of the night was Andre Roberson, who grabbed four steals and blocked three shots. None of his plays was more important than his disruptions at the end that helped get the ball back into Thunder hands and ultimately lead to points on the other end. Oklahoma City’s defense has been the rock-solid foundation for this team all season long, and they will most assuredly need these types of performances in order to continue to find success.
Hosting the Raptors
The Thunder gave Oklahoma City a fantastic Christmas present in the form of a victory over the visiting Houston Rockets, but they don’t get much time to rest and enjoy it. The Thunder host the Toronto Raptors in Oklahoma City on Wednesday in a matchup that features two of the league’s hottest teams. The Raptors are 10-1 in December, and they have one of the NBA’s most lethal backcourt duos in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The game will tip off at 7 PM and will be televised on FSOK and NBA TV. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and give us a like on Facebook.