Thunder reserve guard James Harden single-handedly had taken control of Tuesday night's game against the Houston Rockets with nine points and four assists in the fourth quarter while playing the point guard position.
In the final 4:28 of the game, however, Harden didn't have a point, an assist or a rebound and OKC's 102-91 lead with 2:29 remaining ended up being a gut-wrenching 104-103 loss at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“We made an adjustment,” Houston guard Courtney Lee said of defending Harden. “He was coming off (screens) and doing a good job of splitting the big and we gave them a different look. … They went away from him late in the stretch and it worked out to our benefit.”
Why did OKC stop going to Harden? Was it something the Rockets did defensively?
“I'm not sure,” Lee said with a smile. “I would like to think so, but I'm not sure.”
Lee explained the Rockets went with a smaller lineup and switched on all pick-and-rolls and every down-screen.
Former Oklahoma coach and Houston assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said the lineup responsible for the 13-1 run to close out the game has given the Rockets their best defensive nucleus much of the season at key moments.
Lee, who hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 15.1 seconds left, on whether he thought the game was over when the Thunder had an 11-point lead with 2:29 left: “No, it's never over. I've been in the NBA four years. Crazy stuff happens. We were all out there telling ourselves we've got keep fighting, keep competing. It's not over until the time runs out. Luckily, we were able to get some stops and then come down run some plays to get us some open looks.”
After winning 14 straight at home, the Thunder has now lost two of its last three at Chesapeake Energy Arena and is 18-3 at home. … Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy was in attendance and sat behind the Thunder bench. … After a season-high 27 assists against Charlotte on Saturday, OKC again bested its season average with 22 assists against the Rockets. … Houston got 18 points off 16 OKC turnovers. … The game had 15 lead changes and 12 ties. … The Rockets used eight players and six scored in double-figures. … Thunder guard Russell Westbrook now has nine technical fouls, four short of the league's automatic one-game suspension. Kendrick Perkins has 10 technicals. … Houston was without the starting backcourt of Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry. In its last meeting against the Rockets, OKC lost 96-95 at Houston, where Martin had a season-high 32 points and Lowry had 11 points and nine assists.
Rockets forward Chandler Parsons, a rookie out of Florida who entered the game with a career-high of 20 points, had 19 points by halftime and finished with a career-high 21.
Two years ago this week, Parsons and Florida were in a first-round NCAA Tournament game at the then-Ford Center and lost 99-92 to BYU in double-overtime.
Parsons had 20 points and 10 rebounds and missed a potential game-winner jumper in the closing seconds of regulation. BYU's Jimmer Fredette, now with the Sacramento Kings, finished with 37 points.
OKC is 8-1 after a loss this season and faces a stiff challenge trying to make it 9-1 when it plays at Denver on Thursday at 8 p.m. The Thunder returns home for a Friday game against San Antonio and a Sunday game against Portland. Both games start at 8:30 p.m. and will be shown on ESPN.
The Thunder held its fourth annual Military Appreciation Night, honoring veterans and active members.
The Southeast High School Air Force JROTC Silent Drill Team, an 11-time state champion and four-time national champion military drill team, performed at halftime.
Nearly 50 new soldiers took the U.S. Army oath of enlistment and videos were shown of soldiers from the Oklahoma National Guard.