The Thunder struggled to overcome a red-hot start from the Rockets who shot over 50 percent from the 3-point line through all four quarters. Ultimately, 28 3-pointers from Houston coupled with Thunder turnovers gave the Rockets the favorable result in the first of two back-to-back matchups.
It was a slow start for the Thunder and a hot start for Houston that set the tone for Monday’s matchup. The Rockets posted 48 points in the opening frame behind 11-made 3-pointers on just 14 attempts. On the other end of the floor, the Thunder started cold from behind the arc and instead worked through Al Horford in the lane early on posting up the big man against Houston’s Christian Wood in order to jump start its offense. Horford put up seven early points on 3-4 shooting, but by the end of the first frame, OKC trailed 48-24.
“We gotta see where we can have [Houston] feel us a little bit more on the ball,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “I just didn’t think we had a lot of physicality on ball or in our help and they got into a rhythm and they got really comfortable. They came into the game in a rhythm, they’ve won five in a row, played really well. We needed a little more pop tonight to stop them in their heels and we didn’t have that obviously.”
The Thunder worked to chip away at the Rockets lead in the second frame, outscoring Houston 30-25 and only allowing three 3-pointers. Stringing together much needed stops on the defensive end with plays in transition, OKC put together small runs to slowly erode the wide margin. However, untimely turnovers kept the Thunder from being able to fully mount a comeback-worthy effort going into the half. It would be a trend that would continue throughout the game as OKC gave up 21 points on 17 turnovers for the night.
“We were able to get some stops defensively. They really rushed us to begin the game, and we just fell behind,” said Horford. “We tried to chip at it there in the second quarter and we put ourselves in better position, but we also had some turnovers there that kind of killed our momentum at times.”
The second half belonged to the Rockets. Houston outscored OKC 29-22 in the third frame and by the final stanza, the Rockets regained their 3-point shooting momentum and cashed in another nine triples. Eric Gordon led the offensive effort off the bench with 25 points, 15 of which came from deep. DeMarcus Cousins also dropped in five triples on the night. Both Christian Wood and John Wall recorded 18 points to spearhead the starting lineup.
Hamidou Diallo recorded 15 points off the bench to finish with his sixth straight game in double figures – a career-high streak for the third-year guard. Diallo went 6-of-7 from the field and also dished out four assists. Leading the Thunder in scoring was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who tallied a hard-earned 19 points in his 28 minutes of play.
For the second straight game, the Thunder’s first quarter determined the tone for the remainder of the contest. Houston’s 11 made 3-pointers in the opening frame led the Rockets to a 48-point quarter – the most the Thunder has given up in a single frame this season. The jump start opened up an early 24-point margin from which the Thunder would play uphill the remainder of the game.
“It’s difficult. I just believe that the past two games for whatever reason we haven’t started with that same energy and edge that we need to start the game,” said Horford. “We need to do a better job of starting and staying consistent with what we’re trying to do so that we’re not in this position coming in on Wednesday.”
The closing sequence of the third quarter was a bright spot in the Thunder’s game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had the ball out beyond the 3-point line, with just eight seconds remaining in the quarter. SGA waited until six on the clock before he quickly spun to the middle of the floor and maneuvered his way to the rim for a bucket with just 2.6 seconds remaining. This was plenty of time for Houston to advance the ball up the sideline for a 3-point attempt from Ben McLemore, but he was met at the top of his shot by the outstretched arms of Aleksej Pokuševski who recorded one of the team’s season-high eight blocks on the play.
The Rockets shot 53 percent from the 3-point line and knocked down a season-high 28 3-pointers. Of its 136 points, 84 of them came from behind the arc with seven players cashing in more than one. The early start opened the flood gates for the Rockets who sit at sixth in the league in 3-point attempts per game. From there, the Thunder struggled to cool off Houston who had become extremely comfortable from behind the arc.
“When a team is making shots like they are and they’re comfortable early, which I think was the case tonight, it’s hard to get them out of the comfort zone,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “Then when we do try to pick it up, it’s a little bit harder to get stops because they’re already comfortable and already warm. That was the case tonight early. They were getting easy ones and then when we really tried to stop the bleeding it was too late. We’ll learn from it and we’ll try to be better on Wednesday.”
“I know this group. We always respond after tough games this season. That’s what I’ve seen from our group and we get to play the same team on Wednesday.”
“We try to focus on controllables after the game. The game is emotional. No one likes to give up 130 points or 28 threes, however many they made. But we need to find the stuff that we can control and we need to try to continue to improve that.”
— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) February 2, 2021
The Thunder will get a day to evaluate and practice before tipping off against the Rockets again on Wednesday in OKC. From there, the Thunder will host the Timberwolves in back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday.
— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) February 2, 2021