The Thunder's 104-101 survival of the Rockets was a wild game, and the grades reflect that.
Message sending: A. Twenty-nine seconds into the game, Kendrick Perkins leveled a shoulder into Patrick Beverley and was glad to take the foul. In the second quarter, as the Rockets' Jeremy Lin stopped to call timeout, Kevin Durant aggressively swiped at the ball. For all the political correctness since the news of Russell Westbrook's injury, the Thunder was peeved. Who knows if it knocked Beverley off his game, but he was off. The sparkplug for Houston in the first two games picked up three fouls in the first 9 1/2 minutes and finished with just six points in 22 minutes.
First quarter offense: A. The last time Oklahoma City's NBA team played without Russell Westbrook at point guard, the team was the Hornets and they were run by Chris Paul. So this game was a great unknown. But in the first quarter, the Thunder had 22 possessions and scored 39 points. And that included a sluggish start, with three straight empty possessions.
Third-quarter offense: F. The Thunder had 26 possessions and scored 14 points. That's 0.54 points per possession. The Thunder made just five of 25 shots. Kevin Durant was 1-of-7 and started pressing. The Thunder had nine straight empty possessions, allowing Houston to trim a 14-point deficit to four by quarter's end.
Beard celebration: B. The Rockets are trying to embrace the Beard the way Oklahoma City did. During one of the timeout shooting games, the contestant wore a fake beard. The halftime entertainment was Dan Dunn's Paintjam; Dunn literally threw paint together on a huge canvas and produced a portrait of James Harden. Good stuff. In OKC the previous two years, the fans would have gone nuts. In Houston, it seemed to be moderate amusement.
Transition defense: C. The Thunder defense was mostly solid — the Rockets shot just 43.4 percent from the field, including 32 of 47 from 3-point range. But the Rockets scored 17 fast-break points. The Thunder figures to slow down without Westbrook, and indeed OKC had just six transition points itself. But it has to slow down the Rockets.