Francisco Garcia, who started in place of an injured Jeremy Lin, buried three of six from long range in the first 12 minutes, while Chandler Parsons made both of his attempts.
Matching the Rockets' shot-making wasn't the problem for the Thunder. Taking care of the basketball was. Oklahoma City coughed up the ball eight times in the first quarter, leading to 12 Rockets points. It ruined the Thunder's ability to gain any rhythm and offset an 8-for-15 shooting quarter.
But the Thunder took control in the second quarter, outscoring the Rockets 36-24 and leading by as many as 13 in the period. OKC used a 12-0 run to turn a 34-31 deficit into a nine-point lead. Durant and Martin scored all 12 point for the Thunder, with Durant dumping in seven during the spurt. The Thunder went on to lead 58-45 with 1:13 remaining in the half.
The Rockets, though, closed the half on an 8-2 run, stealing momentum and constructing enough confidence going into the locker room to come out and challenge the Thunder in the second half. Nothing built Houston's spirit quite like Delfino's strip on Durant as he brought the ball up and ensuing 3-pointer that capped the run.
Surprisingly, Houston did it in spite Harden's struggles. The Rockets' franchise player missed shots, turned it over and was a total non-factor. He contributed just six points in the half and turned it over seven times. Jackson, starting his second career game, had two more points in the first half. Derek Fisher, meanwhile, supplied a much-needed spark by scoring nine first-half points, making all three of his 3-point tries.
When the third quarter began, that 8-2 run quickly ballooned into an 18-2 run as the Rockets scored the first 10 points of the third period. They later assembled a 17-4 run to snap a 73-all tie and take a 90-77 lead, their largest of the night. Five Rockets scored during the stretch, as Houston didn't have a single empty possession in that three-minute window. The Thunder, over that same span, turned it over three times.
But thanks to a 7-1 run in the final two minutes, the Thunder closed to within 91-84 entering the fourth quarter.
Houston led by as many as eight in the final period.
The Thunder now returns home continuing its search for answers as to how the offense can continue to keep up with the Rockets without Westbrook.
“It's definitely going to continue to develop … We just have to keep evolving,” Brooks said. “You don't prepare for (the loss of Westbrook), but when it happens you adjust and you move on. We're still a good team. We're definitely going to be a little different team, but we still have good players that can compete at a high level and that are driven and want to push the team forward.”