HOUSTON —For 20 minutes Saturday night, the Thunder seemed to be sleepwalking.
The defense was dreadful. The offensive was all over the place.
The Thunder just didn't seem interested in performing its principles and instead played Houston's preferred pace.
But when Oklahoma City woke up, boy, was it a thing of beauty.
A four-minute surge was all it took for the Thunder to run the Rockets out of their own gym and secure a 124-94 victory inside the Toyota Center.
Oklahoma City outscored Houston 16-0 in the final four minutes of the second quarter, opening an 18-point halftime lead that was too large for the Rockets to mount anything that looked remotely close to a comeback.
“The first quarter, we were just going back and forth until one team decided to play defense,” said Russell Westbrook. “And that was us.”
The Thunder went on to lead by as many as 34 points before recording its largest road win since 2009. The strong finish, in light of a handful of sloppy ones this season, was worth appreciating on its own. Houston never got closer than 13 in the second half and trailed by at least 20 throughout the final 20 minutes.
“It's important to keep building on your habits,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “You can't play the scoreboard. It's easier said than done … I thought our guys did a good job closing out the game. We held them under 40 percent and that's really good against the Rockets.”
But back to those final four minutes of the second quarter.
The Thunder forced the Rockets into turning it over five times while hounding Houston into missing all six of its shots over that span. OKC capitalized by turning those five turnovers into nine points, going 5-for-6 in that same four-minute stretch.
“Just the activity with our hands,” Brooks said. “We were using our length, we were getting into the passing lanes, we were contesting every pass and getting into the basketball. And that's what happens. When you put a player under duress you have a chance to turn it over. If you don't have any pressure on them, there's no chance to turn them over.”
The Thunder came up with three of its season-high 16 steals during that stretch. Those four minutes also characterized how the Thunder turned offense into defense, as OKC scored 32 points off 24 Rockets turnovers.
“This game had a lot of possessions in it because of the way the game was played,” said Kevin Martin. “So we did have a lot of opportunities to get our hands on balls and get some steals.”
Kevin Durant scored 11 of the Thunder's points during that game-changing 16-0 run. Westbrook added three. Thabo Sefolosha chipped in two.
Westbrook set the tone from the start, however, with his early offense and tenacious defense. He scored a game-high 28 points on 11-for-22 shooting — the first time since Dec. 4 that he's shot at least 50 percent from the field — and added eight rebounds and eight assists. He also helped pester Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin into a woeful seven-point, seven-assist, four-turnover night. Lin made just three of eight shots.
Thabo Sefolosha tied his season high with 15 points but made his biggest impact by following Westbrook's lead and clamping down on former Thunder guard James Harden.
Harden scored a team-high 25 points but missed 11 of 17 shots and had four turnovers. In two games against his former team, Harden has averaged 21 points but shot just 27.2 percent.
The win, the Thunder's 23rd in 29 games this season, helped put Harden even further in Oklahoma City's rearview mirror.
“James was really good for us. He's a terrific player. He's an All-Star player,” Brooks said. “He's definitely at that level, and he's going to be that way for many, many, many years. He still has improvement to make in his game and he's really good now. But we never looked at it that way. We looked at it as whoever we have we're going to get better with them and move forward.”