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Thunder 104, Rockets 92

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- Blitzed by the Houston Rockets' perimeter shooting in the second quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder turned to their third-ranked defense to grind out a 104-92 victory Thursday night at Toyota Center.

After Houston (26-15) established a season high with 73 points in the first half, the Thunder surrendered just 19 points in the second half. The Rockets shot 7-for-36 (19.4 percent) from the floor following intermission.

Forward Kevin Durant paced the Thunder (29-10) with 36 points, including 10 in the third quarter when he matched the Rockets' output that period. His 3-pointer with one-tenth of a second left pulled the Thunder even entering the fourth, and Oklahoma City took the lead for good at 86-85 when guard Jeremy Lamb drilled a corner 3-pointer with 11:18 to play.

Thunder forward Serge Ibaka posted 21 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks, and point guard Reggie Jackson added 23 points and six steals.

Houston guard James Harden totaled 16 points -- none in the second half -- with seven rebounds and eight assists. Five other Rockets scored in double figures, but Houston finished 0-for-14 on 3-pointers in the second half. The Rockets' second-half scoring total represented a season low.

The Rockets' dormant 3-point shooting reappeared in earnest in the second quarter, propelling Houston to a breathtaking shooting display.

Keyed by reserve guard Aaron Brooks and reserve forward/center Donatas Motiejunas, the Rockets drilled 9-of-14 3-pointers in the second, with both Brooks and Motiejunas closing the first half 3-for-4 from deep. Houston rode a stretch of four consecutive treys to a double-digit lead, 58-48, wiping out a 41-34 Oklahoma City advantage with a 24-7 run.

Durant pulled the Thunder to within 63-60 via foul-line proficiency before the Rockets closed the half with a flourish and two last 3s, one from Motiejunas and another from forward Chandler Parsons for a 73-59 lead.

Oklahoma City began the game on fire, hitting its opening five shots en route to a 13-4 lead. But Harden warmed up, and his powerful tomahawk dunk with 4:16 left in the quarter breathed life into Houston.

NOTES: The Thunder entered play Thursday ranked third in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 98.2 points per 100 possessions. That stat offers another sign of roster growth, with the Thunder improving from ninth two seasons ago (100.0) to fourth last season (99.2). "I don't think our guys get enough credit for the defensive commitment that they bring," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "They're terrific offensive players, and they've done a great job of improving in that area of the floor, but defensively we've always been pretty good the last three years or so." ... The Rockets displayed a penchant for late-game rallies recently, continuing that trend with a 33-point fourth quarter in their 103-100 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans on Wednesday night. "I don't like the fact that we get off to lethargic starts at times, but there are some nights in the NBA where you get off to bad starts," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "They've shown an ability to come back."
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