Takeaways: Jabari Smith Jr. excels, but Chet Holmgren rallies Thunder past Rockets

HOUSTON — In a frontcourt duel between top picks from the 2022 NBA draft, Chet Holmgren of the Thunder and Jabari Smith Jr. of the Rockets put on quite a show Sunday at Toyota Center. But thanks in large part to Holmgren’s fourth-quarter flurry, Oklahoma City (40-17) maintained its position at the top of the Western Conference and rallied to a 123-110 road victory (box score).

Holmgren finished with 29 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks, shooting 11-of-16 from the field (68.8%) and 5-of-8 on 3-pointers (62.5%). For the No. 2 overall pick of the 2022 first round, his 19 fourth-quarter points set a Thunder rookie record (Holmgren is considered a rookie because he sat out last season due to injury).

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, an emerging MVP candidate, led the Thunder in scoring with 36 points while making 13-of-23 shots (56.5%), 2-of-3 on 3-pointers (66.7%), and 8-of-9 on free throws (88.9%).

Yet, the Rockets (25-32) were competitive most of the way thanks to a strong night from Smith, drafted one slot behind Holmgren at No. 3 in 2022. After sparking Houston’s victory Friday over Phoenix, Smith finished with 20 points, 17 rebounds, and 4 assists on Sunday, shooting 6-of-14 overall (42.9%) and 4-of-9 on 3-pointers (44.4%).

Smith has now had consecutive games with 20+ points and 15+ rebounds after not having any in his career before this stretch.

It was a fine statistical game for Smith’s frontcourt mate, Alperen Sengun, who finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 6-of-12 (50.0%). However, he also had a game-high 6 turnovers, and many of Sengun’s points and rebounds came late in the fourth quarter — after the game had largely been decided.

Other individual stat lines of note for the Rockets, who raced out to a 16-point lead midway through the second quarter, included:

  • Fred VanVleet: 20 points, 3 assists; 7-of-16 shooting (43.8%), 4-of-10 on 3-pointers (40.0%)

  • Jalen Green: 11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists; 5-of-13 shooting (38.5%), 1-of-5 on 3-pointers

  • Dillon Brooks: 13 points, 2 assists; 4-of-5 on 3-pointers (80.0%)

It was a mixed bag for Houston’s rookie duo of Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore. Thompson had 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals in 21 minutes while making some spectacular defensive plays. However, he shot just 2-of-10 (20.0%) and scored 6 points in 21 minutes.

Whitmore had 12 points and 3 rebounds while shooting 4-of-9 (44.4%) — but in contrast to Thompson, he struggled on defense.

Here’s our look at Sunday’s highlights and postgame interviews, along with reaction by media members and fans. Next up is Tuesday’s rematch in Oklahoma City, with tipoff at 9:00 p.m. Central.

Feb. 25 Rockets-Thunder reaction

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Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire