Rockets 115, Thunder 111 - Fourth Quarter Flurry Gives Rockets 2-0 Series Lead

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The Thunder shot right out of the gates looking like a team that was trying to avenge a 31-point blowout in Game 1, playing with incredible energy and a major sense of urgency. Led by Russell Westbrook, who quickly scored 12 points and dished out four assists, the Thunder were able to hit seven of their first nine attempts from the field while the Rockets could only hit one of seven. Houston’s starting lineup just couldn’t find a rhythm offensively, and OKC’s improved effort to stop James Harden’s pick-and-rolls allowed them to get to a big, double-digit lead early. Luckily, Nene, Eric Gordon, and Lou Williams came to the rescue of the offense, managing to mitigate the damage towards the end of the first quarter (the Thunder led 35-26).

Lou Williams really sparked the offense for the Rockets in this one, starting with breaking Houston’s drought after seven misses from beyond the three-point arc with two makes late in the first quarter (one of which beat the clock at the end of the period). He followed that by opening the second with two quick layups and a strip on Westbrook that led to a Patrick Beverley corner three, cutting OKC’s lead to just three. Unfortunately, the Rockets had absolutely no answer for Westbrook as the likely MVP put up a halftime stat line that basically matched what he did in the entirety of Game 1 (22 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists).

Houston managed to close out the second period with some momentum, stopping OKC’s offense several times in the last minutes and cutting yet another double-digit lead down to six points by halftime. James Harden, who had been largely ineffective offensively, finally started to catch a groove by taking advantage of some isolation mismatches – namely, on Kyle Singler. Harden cooked Singler (and others) on a few possessions in a row, which led to a Clint Capela dunk and several trips to the free throw line. Although Harden hadn’t played particularly well up to this point, he did make all 12 of his free throw attempts in the half.

The third quarter was almost a complete disaster for the Rockets, who opened the period with four fouls in less than two minutes. This meant that the Thunder would shoot free throws on any foul that followed in the last ten minutes of the third. Foul trouble didn’t persist, but Russell Westbrook did. He scored 14 points by himself in the period while the Rockets struggled to score and grab rebounds. In the final two minutes, Houston went on a big 12-3 run when Westbrook went to the bench. Harden was a major part of this run as the struggling superstar hit two big threes that got the Toyota Center crowd excited for the first time since before halftime. After looking close to hopeless in the third, the Rockets were down by just three points after three (89-86).

Westbrook checked back into the game to start the fourth quarter while Harden got his scheduled rest. After a couple of possessions it looked like Westbrook was going to lead the Thunder on another run, but Patrick Beverley wasn’t going to let that happen. After a career performance in Game 1, Beverley finally started to make his presence known on the offensive end – hitting back-to-back floaters. Eric Gordon followed that with a floater of his own to cut OKC’s deficit to one (94-93).

The Rockets managed their first lead of the entire game after Gordon hit a three that put Houston up 96-94. Both teams would fight hard for the rest of the quarter, but the Rockets ultimately had more firepower than the Thunder. Houston’s offense finally started to click, especially from beyond the three-point line. Harden, Gordon, Beverley, and Williams all contributed from beyond the arc – with many of these threes feeling like daggers. A Patrick Beverley corner three gave Houston a 114-104 lead that essentially sealed victory.

I need to preface this part of the recap by saying that Russell Westbrook was absolutely BRILLIANT in Game 2. He’s the sole reason Houston continually found itself in a hole through the majority of the game. However, as Russ giveth, Russ taketh away. Despite finishing with an incredible 51 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds, Westbrook went completely ice cold in the fourth quarter. Out of a whopping 17 field goal attempts in the period, he hit just three of them – that’s just 17.6%. Westbrook is everything for that OKC offense, but credit Houston’s defense for making things difficult for him in crunch time and forcing Westbrook into that many misses. As much as Westbrook was the reason for OKC’s highs in this game, he (and his 43 field goal attempts) was a focal point for the ultimate low – a 2-0 series deficit.

Houston heads to OKC for the next two games, with Game 3 airing on ESPN this Friday night.

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.

The second game ball of the postseason goes to James Harden.

Despite not truly finding a rhythm until very late in this game, James Harden was low-key pretty efficient in this game. Through three quarters it looked (and felt) like Harden just didn’t have it on Wednesday night, but the stat sheet would indicate otherwise. Harden finished with 35 points on 41.2% shooting (7/17 from the field) and eight assists. Compared to Russell’s final stat line, Harden’s efficiency was through the roof – especially when you factor in his near-perfect free throw shooting (18/20).

James Harden may not win the MVP Award, but, for most of this season, the Rockets are focused on bigger and better things. This game was another step in that direction.

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