A depleted Houston Rockets team hobbled into Oklahoma City Arena Wednesday night without three rotation players, and on the second game of a brutal set of back-to-back, losing the first in the latest of setbacks in a disappointing opening month.
The Oklahoma City Thunder was hardly sympathetic, and led almost wire to wire against the undermanned Rockets in a 116-99 victory.
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told his team that if they managed 20 assists, they would get a day off and they answered by exhibiting by far its best ball movement on the young season, finishing with a season-high 26 assists and a season-low 9 turnovers.
“I thought everybody did a good job passing the ball. It was quite an offensive game for us,” Brooks said. “Offensively it helps when you have low turnovers, everybody gets to touch the ball and we shared the ball as well as we have all year.”
Russell Westbrook accounted for 12 of the Thunder’s assists, and also amassed 21 points and six rebounds. Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 24 points, Nenad Krstic scored 11 points and retrieved seven rebounds, and Serge Ibaka, starting for the injured Jeff Green, also scored 11, adding eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
Rockets forward Luis Scola paced all scorers with 26 points, and added eight rebounds, and Kevin Martin scored 19 for the Rockets, who were without Aaron Brooks, Chase Budinger and Yao Ming.
D.J. White scored 12 points and led a Thunder bench that accounted for 40 of the team’s 116.
“It was good to see D.J. [White] get in there and mix it up and have some success. He’s worked his tail off for a long time for us without a lot of times being rewarded in the game,” Brooks said.
After trailing 64-53 at the half, the Rockets narrowed their deficit to just four points with 7:38 remaining in the third quarter, but a the Thunder used a decisive 26-15 run to close the period and Houston, as the Rockets never again came closer than 14 points.
The Thunder’s bench allowed Brooks to sit Durant for the entire fourth quarter. Durant had gotten up slowly following a first quarter spill, the first of several violent falls for the Thunder’s star player.
“I don’t like it,” Durant joked, “but we were winning the game. It’s pretty cool that the guys finished it out and got a good win.”
The win was Oklahoma City’s fourth in five games. The Thunder now face a pair of road games in consecutive days against Boston and Milwaukee, arguably the two most challenging matchups in a set of five games in one week for the Thunder.
Boston defeated the Thunder in convincing fashion November 7 in Oklahoma City Arena, a 92-83 loss for Oklahoma City that still stands as the team’s lowest scoring performance of the season.
“They took it to us pretty good,” Brooks said of the earlier loss to the Celtics. “They’re experienced, they’re physical, and we have to go play a great ballgame. I’m excited about the opportunity; our guys are excited to get off to Boston.”
Brooks and the 7-4 Thunder will have their chance when they enter the Garden Friday night.