Coach Scott Brooks said the Thunder would have to match the Rockets’ physicality to win Sunday night in the Ford Center.
Oklahoma City, though, failed to match their grit even though the Rockets’ most physical player missed all but 22 seconds of the game.
Bolstered by 23 offensive rebounds, Houston dominated the fourth quarter to escape with a 100-91 win.
"We’d play good defense. Sometimes we’d play great defense,” said Kevin Durant. "That’s one thing we have to learn is to close out possessions on the defensive end.
"We’d play well (defensively) for 22 or 23 seconds but couldn’t get a rebound. That’s kind of heartbreaking and discouraging.”
Luis Scola, the Rockets’ one legitimate inside player, suffered a cut on his right eyelid on the Thunder’s first offensive possession when Etan Thomas dunked over him on OKC’s first possession. The bloody injury required seven stitches. Scola did not return.
It seemed to only make the gritty Rockets even more feisty.
Houston shot only 40.4 percent but attempted 19 more field goals than the Thunder. It’s rare, but the Rockets grabbed exactly as many offensive rebounds as defensive rebounds to win the battle of the boards 46-35.
"They just out-hustled us,” said Jeff Green. "They were the first to the ball and made the hustle plays. We didn’t get the offensive rebounds we needed. We didn’t get the stops we needed toward the end.”
Oklahoma City owned the lead the first three quarters, was up 54-45 at halftime and still led 71-69 after three quarters.
But Houston, led by Aaron Brooks, ran away from the Thunder the final five minutes.