Photo Credits: Zach Beeker/OKC Thunder
The Houston Rockets arrived to the Chesapeake Energy Arena on Monday with a full head of steam, winning their last five games in a row. The Rockets’ picked up right where they left off on Monday, proving to be too much for the hometown Oklahoma City Thunder to handle, blasting them in a blowout 136-106 victory. For Houston, their victory pushed them back into the positives with a 10-and-9 record, while Oklahoma City dropped to twelfth in the conference with an 8-and-11 record.
Houston established themselves in the earliest stages of the game, materializing bucket after bucket against the Thunder defense. The visitors jumped out to an early 21-4 lead just ticks past the midway point of the first, and Oklahoma City struggled to snag a quick streak of their own to tighten the gap. Houston sat atop a 24 point lead through the first twelve minutes, built upon an astronomical 48 point period. Not only was this outburst the most points the Thunder have given up in a quarter, but the rate at which the Rockets were converting was inexcusable. The Rockets team shot 64% in the quarter on 11-14 shooting from downtown—that’s just a hint under 79%.
With the Rockets’ mounting a sizeable lead headed into the second quarter, they just needed to keep the game an arms-length away from the Thunder—in which they did. Oklahoma City drastically improved on both ends in the second quarter, outscored the Rockets 30-25, but the lead still fell in favor of Houston, by 19 points.
A key point of emphasis in this first half was the lack of shooting from the Oklahoma City Thunder outside, after shooting 21 and 20 threes in the respective first half’s of their last two games, they dipped to just 15 attempts outside—Houston buried 14 triples in the half.
The Thunder put up a valiant effort in the early parts of the second half, dwindling the lead down to just 17, but a 15-3 Rockets run in the third put this game to rest. The Rockets held a margin as high as 35 points in the fourth quarter, but won by 30 points by the last horn.
Houston controlled the perimeter the entire span of the game with 10 of their 12 players nailed a three at some point in the night. Their collective marksmanship netted them a franchise-record 28 threes in the contest, falling just one shot shy of tying the league record of 29, set by the Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the season. The team placed seven men in double-figures in the game headlined by Eric Gordon‘s 25-point (8-12 FG) outing off the bench. The emerging duo of Christian Wood and John Wall provided effortless points, as they both chipped in 18 points a piece on 8-of-13 and 7-of-12 shooting. Wall set the three-point shooting gameplan into motion with two quick-fire shots to start the game (finished with four) while Christian Wood placed an instrumental part in spreading the floor, penetrating, and gathering rebounds (collecting 11. Former All-Star Demarcus Cousins finished the night on 18 points off five threes, while guards Victor Oladipo and Danuel House posted 15 and 13 points. The final double-digit scorer for Houston came from 25-year-old rookie Jae’sean Tate, who got primarily inside for his 11 points (5-6 FG), while hunting down 7 rebounds, and getting active on defending multiple defenders in the game.
Oklahoma City may want to leave this one in the past as they didn’t perform to high standards on either side of the ball on Monday, but their still were hints of beauty to come out of the home side. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 19 points (8-15 FG), but the constant application of pressure down low forced the 22-year-old outside for a sizable number of looks. SGA looked to spread the love out to his co-stars in the game when his shot was not falling, and it made for great individual moments.
The main character from Monday’s game for the Thunder was none other than Hamidou Diallo. Diallo had himself a field day scrapping together 15 points (6-7 FG) in just 15 minutes of play. The 22-year-old became the team’s rally cry in the second half, scoring ten points in the last half on 4-4 shooting. Diallo’s fresh blend of drives created a unique change in pace for Houston, putting the game in hijinks for brief moments. Al Horford went straight away at Christian Wood, and though he only had 12 points (5-13 FG) and 7 boards to his name in 25 minutes, the effort should be applauded. Horford has been used as a face-up stretch big since the roles were divvied this season, but he also worked out one of his less used parts of his game on Wood. Horford attempted a variety of post-up plays on the 214-pound-big throughout the game, falling off the mark a high percentage of the time, but it is nice to see Horford trying to find other ways to rack up baskets.
Theo Maledon capped the night off with 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting, but he made up in other areas for the squad. Despite a rocky 1-of-4 shooting stroke from downtown, Maledon held the best +/- on the whole starting lineup at -11. His defensive activity resulting in two steals made a real impact into leading his starting crew in the +/- . Darius Bazley posted 15 points (6-13 FG) on the night with 6 boards, debatably having himself his best night around the basket, stringing up complex moves to find the open look, while Justin Jackson may have produced his best personal performance with the team putting up 10 points in 11 minutes.
Aleksej Pokusevski amassed just 2 points and 3 rebounds in his 20 minutes of play, but this game was still of significance to the 19-year-old none-the-less. As first reported by Joe Mussatto on Monday, this contest was the final time Pokusevski will grace the Thunder uniform for a while, as he will be tagging along with the Oklahoma City Blue for the G-League season in Orlando.
Without Aleksej Pokusevski, the Thunder will have a shot to take revenge against the Rockets on Wednesday to conclude their baseball series on a high-note.