HOUSTON — This is why you love this team.
This is why, no matter what, you never stop watching.
For one night, everything you adore and perhaps even despise about the Oklahoma City Thunder was on display, summed up in 48 heart-pounding, hair-pulling minutes Thursday, a night filled with as much fun as frustration and one that ended every bit as invigorating as it was inexplicable.
The Thunder constructed the best second half in team history in its 104-92 win over Houston inside the Toyota Center.
After getting pummeled from behind the 3-point line and allowing 73 first-half points, the Thunder held the Rockets to just 19 points in the second half, forcing Houston into an NBA record for the largest disparity for points scored by a team between the first and second halves.
“I know most of you didn’t go to UC-Irvine, but that’s 54 points different,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
The Rockets’ 19 second-half points marked only the third time in NBA history that a team was held to that total in the final 24 minutes.
The NBA record for fewest points in a half is 16, set, oddly enough, by the then-New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets in a road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1, 2006.
“It was just one of those nights,” said Rockets forward Chandler Parsons.
The Thunder held the Rockets to seven made field goals on 36 attempts in the second half, a 19.4 percent clip. Houston made 12 of 20 3-pointers in the first half. The Rockets missed all 14 of its attempts from long range in the second.
The turnaround originated in the halftime locker room. That’s where Brooks said he showed his team every Rockets made 3 on film.
“There was mistakes, there was some effort (missing) and then there was some tough shots,” Brooks said. “And we knew if we were going to stay in this game we were going to have to clean up the 3-point line.”
The Thunder did it on both ends.
While the Rockets were scorching from long range, the Thunder spent the first half stuck on 0-for-8 shooting from that distance.
Kevin Durant finally banged in OKC’s first 3-point bomb with 6:51 remaining in the third quarter. It ignited a 20-7 run to end the period.
Durant capped the quarter with another 3-pointer, the team’s fourth of the frame, that beat the buzzer and made it 83-all going into the final period.
Durant scored 10 of his game-high 36 points in the period, tying the Rockets’ total.
“We saw the ball go through the net,” Brooks explained. “And when you see that, sometimes it just takes one shot…It gave us hope that the basket is normal size here. And we started making shots in the second half.”
Reggie Jackson scored 23 points for the Thunder, and Serge Ibaka added 21 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
James Harden and Terrence Jones led six Rockets in double-figure scoring with 16 points apiece. Dwight Howard struggled through a foul-plagued night and mustered just 11 points on 13 shots while grabbing eight rebounds. In two games against the Thunder this season, Howard has produced just 20 points on 9-for-26 shooting to go with 17 rebounds.
The Thunder enjoyed one of its best opening quarters this season, scoring 36 points while shooting 15 of 23 from the floor. Exceptional ball movement led to great balance and quality looks. The Thunder took a 13-4 lead before Durant, who has been carrying the offense since Christmas, attempted his first shot. By the time he buried his first basket, he gave the Thunder a 17-10 lead with 7:05 left in the quarter.
But then the second quarter started and the Rockets scored 41 points in the period, the most the Thunder has yielded in any quarter this season.
Houston made nine of 14 3-pointers. To put that in its proper perspective, the Rockets were a combined 10 of 17 from inside the 3-point arc and the foul line.
The onslaught started with a Donatas Motiejunas 3 with 9:58 left in the period. It ignited a 21-4 Rockets run that turned a seven-point deficit into a 10-point lead.
“They were on fire from 3,” said Durant, “but it is really hard to sustain that in this league.”
OKC slowly chipped away in the second half and seemed to grow more confident in its ability to secure a comeback win with every Rockets miss.
The Thunder outscored the Rockets 24-10 in the third quarter, holding Houston to 3-for-17 shooting in the period. Houston had twice as many turnovers as made field goals.
“We got more stagnant,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “We came out and missed some shots. We had some good looks early in the third quarter. We missed some layups, had some layups blocked at the rim. It seemed like our offense just at that point couldn’t make anything. We couldn’t make a basket.”
The Thunder took advantage, going on a 14-6 run in the fourth quarter to open what proved to be an insurmountable eight-point lead.
As history was happening, the Thunder had no idea.
“We was so lost in the game we didn’t realize it until we got in the locker room,” said Durant of the historic turnaround. “But we just tried to take it a possession at a time. It was special to see everybody play for each other.”
Brooks called the performance “inspiring.”
“But like I tell the guys, ‘It’s like an NBA season, there’s ups and downs,’” Brooks added. “This game, giving up so many points and then locking up on the defensive end, allowing them zero 3s, is kind of like the ups and downs of a season. We’ve had some moments that we haven’t played to our standards. But we still just kept chipping away and figuring out ways to get better.”
It’s why you love this team.
It’s why you never turn away.