The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets are intertwined in a decade-long rivalry. From the infamous James Harden trade of 2012, the Russell Westbrook injury in 2013, numerous playoff encounters, and now a budding conflict as rebuilding franchises — they are joined at the hip.
Friday’s contest sparked more contrasts than comparisons, however, as the Oklahoma City Thunder were thumped by the Houston Rockets, being beamed down 124-91. The loss for the Thunder keeps them at the bottom of the standings as a winless 0-2 while for the Rockets, they shoot up to an even 1-1.
Mark Daigneault elected to open the game small, spotting Isaiah Roby as the starting five over regular-season starter Derrick Favors. Houston hit the board first with a Jae’Sean Tate triple to open the contest, though Josh Giddey fired straight back into retaliation, dimming an over-the-head, top-of-the-key bullet pass to Isaiah Roby, ultimately falling short on the play. Giddey fired back another overhead dish on the next possession, but a blank result coupled with two Rockets hits on the end pushed them up 7-0 to open. Oklahoma City countered as a catch-and-shoot Josh Giddey three plus a pair of Bazley free throws shriveled the lead down to one possession. Giddey’s early grittiness resulted in a brief stoppage due to a nose bleed, though the 19-year-old fought through the pain. Houston placed the three-ball on a pedestal during the mid-portion of the first utilizing a pair of left-corner threes and an onslaught of Christain Wood layups to pin a 9-0 run, and an 11-point lead with six to go. The insertion of Aleksej Pokusevski post-timeout spurred an instant highlight as an errant Alperen Sengun pass caused a full-court Poku pass to Darius Bazley, ending with an and-one jam. Oklahoma City’s window to take control promptly shut as the Rockets surfaced a ten point lead a play later, settling for a 34-21 lead through one.
Houston’s offensive streak permeated into the second frame gutting out a 20-point advantage in the first two minutes. The Thunder bited back as a Josh Giddey drive-and-dish netted a Jeremiah Robinson-Earl left-wing three and a Theo Maledon corner shot erased the previous 2-of-10 perimeter dryspell. Oklahoma City’s prowess tapped into the defensive end as a 2-of-7 Houston run pillaged the way for a 14-4 Thunder tangent — cutting the game to 10. Houston closed off all chances of grazing single digits tacking on a 15-2 run in under three minutes, drilling 6-of-7 shots (3-of-3 3PT) en route to a 23-point lead. The Thunder bottled up Houston’s rampant scoring output to close the frame, but a lack thereof for themselves kept the deficit afloat, being down 69-47 at half.
Oklahoma City failed to reach the 40 percent mark on the half shooting 14-of-47 (36.2%), however, a steady 7-of-20 (35.0%) tally from three bolstered their overall production. Bricktown’s starting unit shot a paltry 7-of-26 (26.9%) in the span, but a fruitful 10-point showing from Kenrich Williams mediated the offensive losses — the same cannot be said when it comes to defense.
Houston hounded Oklahoma City shooting 51 percent on a 26-of-51 palette, amping up production from distance shooting 10-of-18 (55.6%). The Rockets clobbered the Thunder on the glass 32-19 to that point, leading to an excess amount of interior buckets. Christain Wood finished the half on pace to set a career-best with 24 points (10-of-14 FG) and 10 rebounds while Jae’Sean Tate mingled with a double-double with 12 points (4-of-6 FG) and 9 rebounds.
Houston tilted the scales even further to open the second half hitting four of their first five attempts en route to a 10-2 stint and a 30-point advantage. The Rockets reminisced that of the Harlem Globetrotters in the frame teasing wide open driving lanes before swooping in for blocks while frontcourt figures proceeded to throw up dangerous alley-oop passes on the other end. Houston’s wacky tactics barred an uproar in the arena, but it hardly reached the box score — even with that, Oklahoma City’s 3-of-12 start called for zero repercussions. Right inside the two-minute mark, Houston hit the century mark up 100-66. By the horn, the Rockets controlled a 27 point, 100-73 lead.
With the fourth quarter being a relatively low-stakes venture, Mark Daigneault filtered in the back end of his depth chart handing large chunks of minutes out to Aleksej Pokusevski, Ty Jerome, Tre Mann, and Vit Krejci, among others. Though the period depicted much of a shootaround session, the Thunder’s worst shooting splits rested in the final twelve going 6-of-22 (27.3%) overall and 4-of-14 (28.6%) from downtown as they looked to force the issue. At the final buzzer, Oklahoma was ousted 124-91.
The Thunder struggled to create open space the entire way as hard hedges on high-ball screens sent double teams onto Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, essentially testing the guard to kick out to wide open shooters. Houston’s plan to shut down the drive worked to a tee as Oklahoma City allotted close to half of their shots to the three, canning just 14-of-43 tries (32.6%). The Thunder’s ball-handling ability took a major hit with the shooting slump as they logged almost as many turnovers (19) as they did assists (21). As for the team’s mentality, it’s food for thought that a lot of the struggled turned to frustration taken out on the defensive end with 21.
Following a 24-point loss, the Houston Rockets clapped back with a perfect game Friday ending the night shooting above 50 percent overall, and close to 45 percent at three going 17-of-38. Oklahoma City’s lack of a big had been exploited to the tune of a 58-34 triumph in the paint while also planting the seeds for a 31-point, 13-of-19, outburst from Christain Wood to tag along with 14 rebounds. Houston dug into it’s back for three more double-digit scorers in this game as Eric Gordon’s relentless penetrations bartered the sixth man 22 points while Kevin Porter Jr. added 18 points with 10 assists.
Mike Muscala hosted Oklahoma City’s top effort from Friday posting 13 points (5-of-7 FG) and 2 rebounds across 12 minutes. Dating back to last season, Muscala’s role has been restricted to a mentorship role without gametime, however, the 30-year-old dominated with the go-ahead from Daigneault. Muscala ended the night as the best frontcourt figure coexisting with the Thunder’s pace-and-space as stretch big (2-of-3 3PT) lineup while also working inside on both ends.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander matched Muscala’s scoring output with 13 points, though it took an unsatisfactory 6-of-15 shot plot to get there. Gilgeous-Alexander had been ratted out from the start given Houston’s defense, so the low scoring is to be expected, however, if attacks similar to Houston’s become the norm — three pointers are a necessity moving forward. SGA shot a mere 1-of-6 in the contest both corner-sitting and playing on the ball, plus his on-ball play only ended with 2 assists. Long story short, Houston put a lock on Bricktown’s Best.
Kenrich Williams added a reliable source of production with 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists off of the bench. Williams hit in the shadows though he feasted at the mid-range and from beyond-the-arch going 5-of-10 in full, and 2-of-3 at the three. Even with a team-high 10 points in the first half, Williams play time suffered in the second half for just 8 minutes, instead having his time deployed to younger pieces.
Aleksej Pokusevski had been one of the top beneficiaries of Mark Daigneault’s adjustments as the Serb utilized his 17 minutes to post 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. Poku started the fourth hot hitting five-consecutive points, but the 19-year-old faltered in the closing stages, shanking catch-and-shoot opportunities, layups, and even airballing a wide open trifecta. Poku placed an evident blemish at the perimeter, going 2-of-7, but he did hammer home both inside tries.
Tre Mann played a microwave role off of the bench for the second-straight game, and impressed, for the second-straight game. Mann matched Houston guards Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. in hoisting stepback jumpers as man hit a pair in minimal attempts, scrapping ip 8 points in a 3-of-5 showing (2-of-3 3PT).
The entirety of Oklahoma City’s starting unit shot below 50 percent on Friday, ultimately ending the night shooting 13-of-42 (30.9%). In the Thunder’s first five, Darius Bazley went for 5 points (1-of-7 FG), Josh Giddey sunk in 6 points (2-of-6 FG), and Lu Dort ended the contest with 8 points (3-of-9 FG).
The Oklahoma City Thunder (0-2) will have the chance to flip into the column on Sunday as they will take on the Philadelphia 76ers (1-1) in their season home opener.