OKLAHOMA CITY — When Houston and Oklahoma City faced off Sunday, fans were treated to a low-scoring, intense, foul-plagued affair. While it may not have been fan friendly, it was exactly the type of contest Rockets guard Patrick Beverley thrives in.
Behind Beverley’s aggressive play, the Rockets beat the Thunder 69-65 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“These are games right up Pat’s alley,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “They are all nasty and dirty and we just kept fighting and we found a way to win a game. It wasn’t the cleanest game, but we found a way to get it.
“That game will not go in the NBA Hall of Fame.”
The Rockets improved their record to 9-1 on the season while the Thunder fell to 3-8. It was the second straight game for the Thunder to lose in the final seconds at home.
“This would have been close to three games where (we) had a chance to win it in the last second or tie it,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “But we’re not looking at the playoffs. We’re just looking at today. Tomorrow comes, we’ll focus on tomorrow. That’s all we can do right now.”
With 4:14 left in the game, guard Reggie Jackson drained a pair of free throws to get Oklahoma City to within a point. Neither team could score for almost two minutes with referees calling fouls almost each time down the floor.
But with 2:18 remaining, Jackson fouled guard James Harden and sent him to the line. He drained both free throws and the Rockets were up 65-62.
Forward Serge Ibaka responded with a jumper. Houston forward Trevor Ariza issued a technical foul for shoving center Steven Adams. Jackson hit the free throw to tie the game at 65.
Harden came down the court and drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Guard Jeremy Lamb tried to answer his own shot from behind the arc. It was off the mark.
The Rockets got the ball with 38 seconds left and leading by three. With Lamb guarding him again, Harden attempted another long 3-pointer. This time he missed and the Thunder corralled the rebound with 16 seconds on the clock.
Lamb inbounded the ball to Jackson at the top of the key. He dribbled the ball a few times then took a contested 3-pointer that hit the back of the rim. Houston got the rebound and closed out the contest.
“We should have gotten a better look,” Brooks said. “But these are experiences (Jackson’s) learning on the fly.”
Forward Lance Thomas and Jackson paced Oklahoma City with 15 points each.
Howard collected 12 points and nine rebounds while Beverly added 12 points and eight boards.
“It really doesn’t matter,” Beverly said. “Any game that we come out with a ‘W’ is the only thing that matters to me.”
Playing in his old house, Harden got off to a strong start in the first quarter. He didn’t miss a shot from the field on his way to a quick seven points to give the Rockets a 24-19 advantage.
Oklahoma City’s offense was frigid at best in the first half. It shot 25 percent from the field and connected on only 2-of-11 3-pointers.
It was the Thunder’s defense that kept them in the game. Adams had six blocked shots in the first half alone. However, Houston still led 42-33 at the break.
The Thunder outscored the Rockets 18-9 in the third period and tied the game at 51-51.
While Oklahoma City got a balanced scoring attack, Thomas was the most aggressive player on the court. With Harden guarding him, he led the team in scoring and shot attempts heading into the fourth quarter.
The intensity of game had been rising throughout the night when they got into an altercation with nine minutes left in the game after Brooks stormed onto the court to yell at a referee. Beverly got involved with the conversation and that began the talking and shoving between teams.
That level of animosity has become the norm when these two teams meet up.
“I thought it was a little cat fight,” McHale said.
NOTES: Houston G Patrick Beverley returned to the starting lineup Sunday against Oklahoma City. It was his first game back since aggravating his hamstring Nov. 6. G Isaiah Canaan went back to the bench. … Houston coach Kevin McHale said his team doesn’t get phased by the zone defense. “We don’t run our offense through the zone,” McHale said. “We have stuff we run inside, which should open up things on the outside. We will attack the zone with different sets that we run.” … Before the game, injured F Kevin Durant went through shooting drills. Thunder coach Scott Brooks says he is progressing. “I think he is just shooting. Just spot shots,” Brooks said. “Just part of the normal rehab process. I don’t know if today he was on his toes. But I’m sure he is getting closer to that, if not today.”
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.