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Rockets win defensive battle with Thunder

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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.”

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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