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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Lowe's Senior CLASS, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.
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Better defense in second half; Harden's 40 points help Rockets top OKC Thunder Monday night
Updated: October 29, 2019 -- 8:40 a.m. CT
Posted: October 28, 2019 -- 11:59 p.m. CT
HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- In Russell Westbrook's first game versus his former team, James Harden scored 40 points; and, the Houston Rockets topped the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-112 Monday night. Harden scored 13 of his game-high 40 points in the fourth quarter.
Westbrook had 21 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists in his first game against his former team. Russ also turned over the ball 5 times. Oklahoma City guard Chris Paul finished the game with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Paul had 6 turnovers in the gam.
"It was different obviously," Westbrook said about facing his former team. "I treat every game the same. I go out to compete and do the best I can."
Russell Westbrook: "Inside those lines, there's no friends. Spalding, that's my friend. And my teammates. And, that's it." pic.twitter.com/URphPK58af— Kris M Gardner (@TheHRReview) October 29, 2019
Paul commented about his return to Houston to face the Rockets.
"I have some great memories on coming back to Houston," Paul answered. "The fans and how they always treated me, and my family, and my kids—I will forever be grateful for that. I'm extremely grateful. The staff and everyone here were always great to me. Some of the people here became like family to me, and I try to keep in touch with those who were genuine to me."
Houston (2-1) struggled shooting the ball in the first quarter; and, in addition to missing 17 of 26 field goal attempts in the quarter, Houston's defense was a step slow and out of kilter. OKC scored 35 points in the opening 12 minutes and shot 50% (13 for 26) from the floor including 5 for 9 on three-point attempts.
Westbrook scored 8 points in the second quarter; and, Houston shot 50% (11 for 22) on field goals in the quarter and outscored OKC 30-27 in the period.
The Rockets trailed the Thunder 62-52 at halftime.
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The Rockets' defense awakened from its first half slumber and helped limit the Thunder to just 18 points in the quarter on 7 for 19 (36.8%) field goal shooting. Houston's offense also perked up with 39 points in the period to erase the 10 point halftime deficit and take a 91-82 lead into the fourth quarter.
"If you don't have energy on defense, then you usually don't (have energy) on offense and sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it doesn't and you lose your defensive energy," Rockets Head Coach Mike D'Antoni said during his postgame press conference. "In my experience, if you don't play hard defensively, then your shot is short and you don't roll into it. To me, it's fact that one leads to the other. When you get the fast breaks, you get the crowd into it and you get some dunks, and everything comes together. For whatever reason, in the first half – we struggled, especially in the first quarter."
Houston's offense cooled off early in the fourth period. The Rockets missed 10 consecutive field goals to begin the quarter. Houston's first points of the fourth came on 2 made free throws by James Harden with 6:45 on the game clock.
OKC struggled to make shots as well in the fourth. The Thunder missed 7 straight field goal attempts before Chris Paul made a three-point basket to cut Houston's lead to 91-85 with 8:14 remaining in the game.
OKC guard Dennis Schroeder scored a layup to trim Houston's lead to 91-87. Harden scored 5 consecutive points for Houston; and, Westbrook scored a putback layup to stretch the lead to 100-93 with 5:13 left in the game.
The Thunder pulled within 100-97; but, Houston pushed the lead back to 7 with two made foul shots by Danuel House Jr and a Westbrook slam dunk.
OKC cut Houston's lead to three once more when Paul nailed a three-point shot with 2:23 remaining.
Leading 108-105 with 1:23 left in the game, Westbrook passed to a wide open P.J. Tucker in the corner. Tucker sank his fifth three-point shot of the ball game for a 111-105 Houston lead with less than 1 minute remaining.
Houston was unable to put OKC away; but, OKC did not get closer than 2 points within the final 14 seconds. Harden went 4-for-4 from the foul line in the final 13 seconds to help clinch the win for the Rockets.
"We picked up our defensive intensity (in the second half)," Harden said. "You know it's still early in the season; that's going to be what gets us over the top; what gets us where we want to go. Obviously, we got a little lackadaisical that first half. Second half we picked it up and look at the results."
Next for the Rockets is a four-game road trip which begins Wednesday, October 30, at Washington, at 7 p.m.
scored 40+ points 28 times last season, tying for the seventh-highest single season total in NBA history and the most since Michael Jordan's 37 40-point games in 1986-87. Harden shot 21-of-22 from the foul line tonight and is shooting 46-of-48 for the season.The Rockets had 33 free throw attempts tonight and have recorded 30 plus free throw attempts in each of the three games this season. That ties Houston's longest streak with 30 or more free throw attempts from last season (January 7 to January 11, 2019). The Rockets were 19-4 when having 30 or more free throw attempts in 2018-19.
P.J. Tucker had 17 points tonight, marking his third straight game scoring 15 or more. That's the longest streak of his career. He scored 15+ points seven times in 82 games played last season. Tucker shot 5-of-7 from 3-point range tonight and is shooting 12-of-18 from behind-the-arc overall this season. He is the third player in NBA history to have shot 66.7% or better from 3-point with 18+ attempts through the first three games of a season.
Clint Capela had 3 blocks tonight and has recorded 2 plus blocks in all three games this season. He's averaging 2.67 blocks per game this season after averaging 1.52 bpg in 2018-19. Capela was second in the NBA with 1.85 blocks per game in 2017-18.
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