Rockets 103, Thunder 105 - Rockets Collapse Down The Stretch

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This one's tough.

The Rockets came into Chesapeake Arena off a big high after defeating the Philadelphia 76ers in convincing fashion (115 - 88). There was a lot of excitement surrounding this game - probably one of the more anticipated matchups to ever not get televised on national TV.

The Rockets and the Thunder are constructed similarly in that they have a dynamic superstar that they are ultra-dependent on and quality role players to round out the roster. The Thunder win games off of their stingy defense. The Rockets win games with their lethal offense. Two polar opposite playing styles/approaches combined with the fact that Harden and Westbrook are putting up ridiculous numbers this year made this matchup must-see TV.

And it didn't disappoint.

The Thunder came off to a hot start to start the 1st quarter erupting in a 38-32 lead. As hot as the Rockets were coming out the gate (50% from the field, 45.5% from 3-PT range), the Thunder were even hotter (75% from the field, 66.7% from the 3-PT line) and the Rockets had no answer for the Thunder.

This was pretty much the story for the first half as the Thunder finished it off shooting nearly 60% from the field and 50% from 3-PT range. Strangely enough, the Rockets shot an impressive 51.4% from the field and 47.4% from 3-PT range. In any normal circumstance, the Rockets would be considered the hot shooting team at halftime, but they had absolutely no answer for the Thunder as Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo combined for 37 points at halftime on 13-19 shooting and 4-6 from 3-PT ranged.

The Rockets had a more balanced scoring approach and it showed. Nobody in the starting unit had scored double figures and James Harden continued to facilitate the ball like a monster (7 assists at halftime). Sam Dekker, however, was the real story of the first half. The sophomore had 8 points in just 10 minutes and 3 for 3 shooting (2 for 2 behind the arch) and he was getting his points within the flow of the offense which has always been a staple of Dekker's game coming out of Wisconsin.

The Rockets finally decided to clamp down in the 3rd Quarter as they held the Thunder to just 40% shooting from the field and 33.3% from the 3-PT line. Unfortunately the Rockets weren't able to capitalize on it themselves as they also shot poorly from the field (41.1% from the field) and James Harden's struggles continued as he shot 2-7 from the field in the 3rd. While he continued to rack up assists (5 more in the 3rd) as Houston went on a 14-5 run to gain control of the lead (77-70), the Rockets badly needed him to show up and hit shots and it just wasn't happening for him and we'll find that this trend continued into the 4th quarter.

This was the 4th quarter from hell for the Rockets.

Their hot shooting from 3-PT land quickly dissipated (9%) as they weren't much better from the field (28.6%). The lead went away for Houston, James Harden was completely dead in the 4th (1-3 from the field and only 1 assist), and the Thunder took advantage, made shots, and ran away with it 103-105.

Offensive stagnation has become a real problem for this team in 4th Quarters and part of that is Mike D'Antoni's choice to play vets like Nene and Anderson late in 4th quarters over worthy young players like Capela and Dekker who probably deserve the nod at this point.

Game Ball

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Wednesday's game ball goes to Clint Capela.

It was tough to give anybody the game ball tonight as the starters did not shoot the ball particularly well and defended at a meteoric level, but give Capela credit - he fit his role to a tee tonight.

He was a monster on the glass (14 boards in only 27 minutes), he finished well at the from (5-8 from the field), he's starting to get a rhythm going at the free throw line (3-4 tonight), and he's defending well (3 blocks tonight).

Capela still has a lot of growth to be made, but he's been an absolute monster for the Rockets these past few games and he's starting to put it together as we all thought he would. It's truly a shame Mike D'Antoni doesn't yet trust Capela enough to close out games and there's really no excuse for it at this point. Capela's a much better defender, roll man, finisher, and he's starting to hit his free throws at an acceptable level. The only growth left to be made is from D'Antoni himself.

Mike D'Antoni has surprisingly enough given the young guys a chance to start the season (Sam Dekker, KJ McDaniels, Clint Capela, and even Montrezl Harrell in spurts), but it's time to put his money where his mouth is in terms of playing these guys in crunch time.

There's really no reason Ryan Anderson and Nene Hilario should have closed the game tonight other than an over-reliance on vets from D'Antoni's part. It'll be interesting to see if Capela gets his shot moving forward to close games, but he was the clear and decisive winner of the game ball tonight and Monday night.

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