For all the long-range shots, Harden said the Rockets actually won with defense. Houston held the Thunder to 39 points after the break. “We played well,” he said. “We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well tonight. But I think defensively, especially in that second half, we did an unbelievable job just gearing in what they like to do and correcting our mishaps in that first half.”
Former Thunder star Russell Westbrook was out for the Rockets again with a right quad strain, but plenty of other Houston players picked up the slack. Danuel House Jr. scored 19 points. “It’s not pride, it’s just team energy," House said. "We want to make sure that guys are not caring about themselves so guys are showing great energy on the court and off the court.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points for the Thunder, and Danilo Gallinari added 17. Oklahoma City dominated the second quarter and led 59-53 at halftime. The Thunder shot 50% in the half. Houston missed its last 15 3-pointers in the second quarter, and Harden scored just eight points on 2-for-10 shooting in the half.
The Rockets went on a 13-0 run early in the second half to regain the lead. Gilgeous-Alexander, who had been cold in the bubble, made three straight 3-pointers to highlight an 11-0 run that put the Thunder ahead again. The Thunder held on and led 78-77 at the end of the third quarter.
Oklahoma City led 80-77 before the Rockets broke away with a 17-0 run, mostly with Harden on the bench. “Unbelievable, man,” Harden said. “That was the game right there. The guys just took it upon themselves to guard and we felt in the sense Oklahoma City was getting tired and we just kept pressing the gas on them.”
While the Rockets kept the pressure on, Oklahoma City relaxed. “I don’t know if it was stagnant or slow, whatever it was, but we weren’t necessarily playing with that same kind of force that we did in that first half," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul, the All-Star guard, blamed himself. He was held to 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting. “I’ve got to do more,” he said. “Straight up. It’s that simple. That run they went on at the beginning of the fourth quarter -- that can’t happen. Got to be better. I’ve got to be better.”
TIP-INS Rockets: Made 8 of 16 3-pointers in the first quarter, but just 2 of 19 in the second. ... Took 10 shots inside the 3-point line in the opening period. ... Harden had five assists in the first quarter. ... Did not have a turnover in the first half.
Thunder: Had nine turnovers in the third quarter. ... C Steven Adams had eight points and 11 rebounds. He made all four of his shots, but all were in the first half. He went scoreless after the break.
DORT RETURNS Thunder guard Lu Dort returned to the starting lineup after missing Game 1 with a right knee sprain. He scored eight points in 25 minutes. “He wasn't necessarily on a minutes restriction, but we wanted to watch his minutes tonight, just to make sure that he could not get set back,” Donovan said.
QUOTABLE Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, joking about the bubble situation and drawing a laugh from his players: “I just told the team all we did was defend home court. Now we have to go to Oklahoma City and play. So we have to come back third game with same kind of intensity, same kind of mentality and see what happens.”
UP NEXT Game 3 is Saturday.
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