For the first time in his 11-year NBA career, Russell Westbrook was set to enter Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City for an NBA game as an opponent.
He went about his regular pregame routine by waving and posing to the energetic OKC crowd. Although he showed out with a big game, the Thunder played spoiler on his return by blowing out the Houston Rockets by 21 points, their second-biggest loss of the season.
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Here are the takeaways from a game that the Thunder led by as many as 30 at one point:
Gallinari & Thunder race-away in the 1Q
Danilo Gallinari and the OKC Thunder ran away with the game in the first quarter and never looked back.
In the first 12 minutes, they outscored the Rockets 37-21 by shooting 14-of-25 from the field and 6-of-10 from beyond the arc. Danilo Gallinari was the top-scorer with 10 points (3-4 FG's) while the team's three-guard line-up of Chris Paul, Shai-Gilgeous Alexander and Dennis Schroder combined for 22 points (9-13 FG's).
G A L L O 🔥 #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/QaBtXAPJha- OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 10, 2020
On the other hand, the Rockets struggled out of the gates. Russell Westbrook had nine points (4-8 FG's) but the rest of the team including James Harden could only manage 12 on 4-of-13 shooting from the field.
Westbrook receives no support in return to OKC
Over the course of the entire game, Westbrook went off for a game-high 34 points (14-26 FG's) in his return to OKC. He finished 1-of-6 from beyond the arc and contributed seven of the team's 14 turnovers but he didn't receive a lot of support from his team to pick him up.
The Rockets, barring Westbrook, failed to find any offensive rhythm in the game. Barring Russ, they were just 20-of-63 (31.7%) from the field and 10-of-34 (29.4%) from beyond the arc. In two of the four quarters, they failed to tally 20 points.
James Harden was the only other Rocket to finish in double figures.
On the other hand, the Thunder had five players finish in double figures. Their three guards combined for 54 points (22-40 FG's) with CP3 also contributing six rebounds, five assists, and four steals.
🚨 CP3 nutmeg! 🚨 pic.twitter.com/17oAvzQm6K- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 10, 2020
They shot 43-of-87 (49.4%) from the field and never let go of their grip on this game, leading by as many as 30 at one point.
Rough road trip for Harden efficiency-wise
Although Harden made history with his 41-point triple-double in a win in Atlanta, it's been a rough two-game road trip for the former MVP from an efficiency standpoint.
James Harden has shot 14-51 over his last 2 games (27.5%). That is the 4th-worst FG pct over a 2-game span over the last 15 seasons (min. 50 FGA).- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2020
For context, there have been over 1,200 instances of a player attempting 50+ shots over a 2-game span. pic.twitter.com/ITef4hnNSr
Against the Hawks, he committed eight of the team's 13 turnovers while shooting 9-of-34 from the field and 5-of-20 from beyond the arc. In this one, he only had 17 points on 5-of-17 shooting.
OKC's rise since Thanksgiving
After a 6-11 start, the OKC Thunder have turned a new leaf. Once believed to be big sellers in the league's mid-season trade window, the Thunder have rattled off 16 wins in 21 games since the Thanksgiving break, a record only second only to the Milwaukee Bucks.
And they've done it with stout defense and clutch offense. During this 16-5 record, the Thunder have the seventh-best defensive rating in the league - 106.1.
Prior to this game, Chris Paul has played a huge role in the team's success in the clutch. The 105 points in the clutch by CP3 are more than the entire Washington Wizards team has scored in clutch situations this season.
Chris Paul scored 20 of his 28 points in the 4Q and OT tonight.- StatMuse (@statmuse) January 8, 2020
CP has 105 points in the clutch this season (5-point games in the last 5 minutes) - the most in the NBA. pic.twitter.com/WRlM4CWxLW
Their 16-5 record since Thanksgiving has propelled them into the lonely 7th seed in the Western Conference.