OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City needed a spark. Riding a two-game losing streak in which its defense allowed more than 100 points in each game, it was playing poorly at the wrong time of the season.
Enter the Houston Rockets, who the Thunder knocked out of the postseason last year. But all that anyone remembers is guard Patrick Beverley causing guard Russell Westbrook to get hurt and miss the rest of the postseason. Looking to become the Thunder’s new rival, the Rockets came in with an attitude and confidence.
But it was the Thunder who got the same old result as they defeated the Rockets 106-98 Tuesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. It was the ninth win in the last 12 matchups between the two teams.
“We just play,” Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. “I don’t think they’re chippy. They’re not a dirty team. They just play hard and so do we. But we know how to control that, I guess. We just go out there and play for each other. Our crowd was great tonight and we just feed off that.”
After the Rockets trailed by 18 at one point, guard James Harden led Houston (44-20) on a run to cut the Thunder lead to five points with 8:30 left in the fourth quarter. However, Durant hit back-to-back jumpers to push advantage back to 10 points.
With 2:55 remaining, Rockets center Dwight Howard trimmed the Thunder lead to eight. After guard Russell Westbrook missed on the other end, Harden drained a 3-pointer in guard Derek Fisher’s face. Oklahoma City’s lead was back down to five.
Durant was fouled and hit two free throws before Rockets’ guard Francisco Garcia answered with a layup in traffic.
Beverley fouled Westbrook on a 3-point attempt and Westbrook hit all three free throws to give Oklahoma City (47-17) a 102-94 advantage with 1:31 left. It was a call the Rockets didn’t agree with.