The Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder played one hell of a game at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday night. Like 15 lead changes and 12 ties type good. Going even a step further, it all ended with an 11-point comeback signed by Houston in the final 2:29 of the game, sealed with a corner three from Courtney Lee and delivered via Patrick Patterson's trailing block of Serge Ibaka's last ditch tip attempt at the buzzer.
By the way, the Rockets did all of this on the road against the best team in the Western Conference, without Kyle Lowry (illness) or Kevin Martin (shoulder). Courtney Lee and Chandler Parsons each scored 21 points to lead Houston, while Kevin Durant countered with 28 of his own and James Harden transformed from instant offense into a strangely distant observer in crunch time.
Russell Westbrook set a tone with a streaking right-handed tomahawk dunk on the opening possession of the game, but ultimately failed to maintain it -- he finished with a ho-hum 19 points on 18 shots to go with four assists and two turnovers. Pesky defense from Goran Dragic -- 12 points, seven assists, five rebounds, two huge steals -- clearly got under Westbrook's skin and irritation rose to the level of a crippling mental lapse late in the game as he picked up a costly frustration technical with 48 seconds left in the game. Seeing how the Thunder lost by one point, it led to an interesting situation in the post-game interview. Royce Young of the CBS Eye on Basketball blog offered the damning details:
In his postgame availability, Westbrook was asked about the incident between him and Dragic. His initial response: "Um, what happened with what?" almost insulting the intelligence of everyone standing there. I was the one that did the asking, so I asked again: "The technical late in the game, you got into it with Dragic a little bit?"
Westbrook turned his head and stood silently. He straight up ignored the question and waited for a new one. Pretended like I didn't exist. He was then asked a question about his ankle by someone to which Westbrook responded politely. The Thunder's PR person said, "Thanks Russ" as a signal the time with him was over, but another writer spoke up. "Were you thinking about answering that question or are you --" except Westbrook was already walking away. Power move, I guess.
Before that, OKC had this game in the bag. James Harden was the man to thank -- at least temporarily. Houston built a four-point lead heading into the final stanza by virtue of Chandler Parsons' inspired play (he scored all 21 points in the first three quarters on 9-14 shooting), but Harden opened the fourth with nine points and three assists in less than five minutes to turn the tables.
Serge Ibaka -- 12 points, eight rebounds, two blocks -- got into the action by nailing his first four attempts in the period, then Kevin Durant took a break from ineffective jump-shooting (0-4 in the fourth) to stretch the OKC lead to nine with a free throw, marking KD's only point in the final 12 minutes. Why did Durant wither in the final minutes after unloading 27 points on 8-14 in the first three quarters? This probably had something to do with it:
Durant stayed in the game but lost any of his remaining edge, and with a nine-point lead at home and three minutes to play, Harden suddenly disappeared from the offense, too. His absence quickly turned conspicuous, while the Rockets closed the game on a 13-1 run. Westbrook handled the ball instead of Harden, but active hands from Dragic created two turnovers and that one fateful technical after a Dragic reaching foul. Creating no opportunities for Harden down the stretch sure looks like a bad decision in the rearview mirror, and it didn't look much better in real-time.
All this chaos set up an electric final sequence. The theme was "trailing." First Dragic trailed Westrbook for a key steal with under 30 seconds left, then he wormed his way into the paint, bounced on his pivot foot as he leaned away from Kendrick Perkins and found Courtney Lee -- 21 points on 8-12 shooting, four rebounds, three steals -- for the three to switch the scoreboard and put the Thunder in a unlikely trailing position. Durant fumbled a crossover at the top of the key on the final possession and forced his way into an errant fadeaway jumper that Serge Ibaka snatched from the sky. As Ibaka reached up to lay in the winning basket (he had room for a dunk, but didn't look to have the springs or comfort with the clock for it), Patrick Patterson trailed his effort and put just enough into his defense to keep the ball under the rim and off the record. Thunder players: stunned. Rockets players: ecstatic.
It was one hell of a game.
For more on the Thunder, check out Welcome To Loud City. Rockets news and analysis is available at The Dream Shake. For more news and analysis from around the NBA head over to SB Nation's NBA Basketball page.