NBA: Rockets Struggle vs. Thunder, Durant

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Thunder 117, Rockets 105

It is not as bad as it looks…I promise.  The final score was not indicative of how the Rockets played tonight, but the team continues to struggle to close out quarters (a theme we have been harping on all season here at HoC). 

The Rockets opened up with a strong first half against the Thunder.  Chuck Hayes even outscored Kevin Durant in the first quarter if that is in any way possible.  I never thought I would say that in my life.  The team was moving well on both the offensive and defensive end of the floor.  In the 1st quarter alone, Houston had 4 nice steals that led to fast break points (2 coming from the Chuckwagon himself). 

The defensive plan by Slick Rick and staff was obvious…let the Thunder shoot three pointers.  Coming into the game OKC sported the worst three point shooting percentage in the ENTIRE league.  That plan was as good as Sherriff Deputy Rick Grimes walking into a zombie infested city of Atlanta alone with no back up (Walking Dead reference).  The Thunder finished 7-11 (80% in the 1st half) from behind the arc, coming up with timely three pointers when the Rockets were struggling to score.

I could see it coming from a mile away, but the Rockets let this one slip away at the end of the third.  Ish Smith had checked into the game for Kyle ‘the Bulldog’ Lowry and committed two costly turnovers in the final minute of play.  This helped OKC in their 12-3 run to end the quarter, ultimately putting the game out of reach.

Earlier today KD was named the USA Basketball Athlete of the Year.  Coming into the game, Durantula had scored at least 25 points in his last five contests.  He certainly didn’t disappoint his fans tonight.  Durant finished with a game 32 points, hitting a remarkable 12-18 from the field.  I have KD on my fantasy team and he certainly hasn’t put those stats up with Shane Battier guarding him all year, and I would bet in his career. 

The Thunder as a team shot remarkably well, and I was especially impressed with James Harden.  This is a guy who has struggled accepting his role as a sixth man coming out as the 3rd overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.  But the second year man out of Arizona State can certainly light it up.  People forget he was a go-to scorer in college, and he proved it tonight against the Rockets going 5-7 from the field and finishing with 16 points.  Now this might not seem like a big number, but he hit BIG shots to extend the Thunder lead whenever Houston would creep back into the game.

On the Rockets side of things, Martin had a team-high 22, while Scola added 18.   The team really struggled on the glass tonight.  Houston didn’t even get their first rebound in the game until the 7:00 minute mark in the 1st Quarter.  They were outrebounded 41-28, which is saying something considering the OKC doesn’t have a great big man on the team.  The Rockets played very well in spurts, proving they can hang around with a top-team in the West, but need to learn how to close out quarters before the end of the month.  The Rockets have an easy schedule for the rest of December.  They need to win as many of these games as possible because starting January 1st; they have two solid weeks (7 games in a row) where they play teams that made the playoffs last year.  It will be a true test for Houston.

Random Thoughts:

-I want to meet whoever Chuck Hayes worked with this offseason on his free throw form.  I can only compare it to fellow staff writer, Dustin McComas, helping work out the kink in my beer pong shot to what it is today.  Hayes, a career 59% free throw shooter, is 73% from the line (went 3-3 tonight).  I don’t think I have ever seen a turnaround like this in ft percentage ever.

-Hill continues to impress me with how strong he is inside.  After his posterization of Samuel Dalembert last night, he had another “Top Play-esque” dunk against OKC.  He put in quality minutes scoring 13 points and grabbing five rebounds.

-I am still frustrated and perplexed by Adelman’s rotation.  How can you expect to climb back into the game, when you start the 4th Quarter with your two best players on the bench?  I like the rotation of Miller, Lowry, Hill, Lee, and Bud in the second, but now when you are down double-digits at the start of the 4th Quarter.