Thunder vs. Rockets: Five takeaways from OKC's blowout loss to Jalen Green, Houston

HOUSTON — Jalen Green soared for an alley-oop pass that seemed far too tall. No bother. The Rockets guard palmed the ball with his left hand and punched it home.

It was that kind of night. The Rockets were electric. The Thunder was listless.

Houston clobbered Oklahoma City 118-105 on Saturday night at Toyota Center. A 13-point game on paper only.

“They took it to us,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said.

It was the second night of a back-to-back for both teams. The Rockets were coming off a home win against the Hawks while the Thunder beat the Bulls at home in overtime Friday night before flying south.

The Thunder (8-12) fell to 0-3 on the second night of a back-to-back.

The Rockets had the benefit of sleeping in their own beds, and Houston certainly had better lift on their jump shots.

Green, who led the Rockets with 28 points, was 6-of-9 from three. The Rockets were 18-of-36 from long range as a team.

“Our defense wasn’t what it should have been or needed to be,” Thunder guard Josh Giddey said.

The only Rocket who didn’t make a three was Clutch, Houston’s round-bellied Bear mascot.

Clutch climbed what had to have been a 30-foot ladder during a second-half timeout. Atop the ladder at midcourt, Clutch heaved shot after shot. His attempts clanged off the iron and caromed off the backboard. Not one of them went in.

Looked a lot like the Thunder’s 10-of-44 (27%) 3-point shooting.

“We didn’t have the energy on that end of the floor, or the defensive end,” Daigneault said, “to create the type of rhythm that Houston was able to create.”

The Thunder had been in quite the groove offensively before Saturday’s cold spell, when OKC shot 39% from the field.

Rockets fans were chanting “We want Boban,” by the end of the game, calling for lovable center Boban Marjanovic the way college fans plead for walk-ons to play.

Second-year Rockets center Alperen Sengun received a standing ovation when he fouled out with 13 seconds left. Sengun, a favorite of Thunder fans in the pre-draft process, had 21 points, 19 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks.

Every Rockets starter scored at least 15 points. Jabari Smith Jr., Houston’s No. 3 overall pick, had a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double.

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Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey (3) has the ball stripped away by Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr., right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey (3) has the ball stripped away by Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr., right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

All SGA

Overshadowed in the blowout was a ho-hum 32-point night for Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

SGA shot 12-of-21 from the field and 7-of-7 from the foul line.

He was the Thunder’s lone source of offense for long stretches.

Gilgeous-Alexander entered the night tied for third in the scoring race with Giannis Antetokounmpo at 31 points per game. Only Luka Doncic and Stephen Curry have scored more than SGA on a per-game basis.

Giddey (18) and Jalen Williams (11) were the only other Thunder starters who scored in double figures.

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Houston Rockets guard Daishen Nix, left, protects the ball as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Tre Mann, center, reaches in front of Rockets forward K.J. Martin, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard Daishen Nix, left, protects the ball as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Tre Mann, center, reaches in front of Rockets forward K.J. Martin, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Pokusevski pulled early

Aleksej Pokusevski started, but he got the hook three minutes into the game.

Daigneault didn’t like what he saw, and Pokusevski remained on the bench for most of the night.

Poku played a season-low nine minutes. He went scoreless on two attempts.

“I just thought our overall team energy wasn’t where it needed to be, especially to start the game,” Daigneault said. “When that happens, we have a lot of guys that we want to play. I use those opportunities to try to get different guys out there …”

Daigneault also had a quick trigger with guard Luguentz Dort, who struggled to keep up with Green.

“It’s gotta be a collective effort to stop those types of players,” Giddey said of his draft classmate. “It can’t be a one-man job.”

Dort played a season-low 14 minutes. It was his first game logging fewer than 20 minutes.

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Youth vs. Youth

The Thunder is the youngest team on the floor no matter the opponent, but the gap was narrow Saturday night.

OKC entered the season as the youngest team in the league: average age 23.14. Houston is second-youngest at 23.58.

“They’re a challenging team because there’s a looseness to the way they play that is contagious,” Daigneault said before the game. “They’re used to playing like that, and they can kind of draw you into that style.”

Daigneault might not have meant it as a back-handed compliment, but there definitely is a “looseness” to the way the Rockets play … as in loose with the ball.

The Rockets came into the night averaging a league-high 17.9 turnovers per game.

Saturday brought more of the same. The Rockets committed 23 turnovers, which gave the Thunder a 33-12 advantage in points off turnovers.

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Thunder tip-ins

Thunder analyst Michael Cage (laryngitis) was back on the broadcast Saturday night.

Fun fact: Paul Watson played 20 minutes for the Thunder the last time it was in Houston, just 362 days ago. Only the diehards will remember.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Thunder got off to a slow start. Daigneault called timeout with 8:34 left in the first quarter after the Rockets took a 14-4 lead. “We’ve got to flip the switch and be ready to go,” Giddey said of the early holes.

Thunder rookie Ousmane Dieng, recently recalled from the G League Blue, logged his first NBA minutes since Nov. 7. Dieng was quiet in 21 minutes off the bench. He shot 0-of-4, with all of his attempts coming from behind the arc.

Ousmane Dieng and Houston’s Usman Garuba shared the court for a stretch. Different spellings but same pronunciation.

Thunder wing Aaron Wiggins, who had back-to-back DNPs before Saturday, played 23 minutes off the bench. Wiggins scored 15 points. He shot 3-of-6 from 3-point range.

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This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OKC Thunder blown out in Houston by Jalen Green, Rockets