OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Houston Rockets sat in their locker room stunned on Friday night. Players were shaking their heads in disgust and doing their best to answer questions about the referees with a politically correct tone.
There is only so much the Rockets could do about the refs, short of putting on the NBA-issued officials gear themselves. The final score will tell you the Rockets were beaten by the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-108.
And that was just the start.
Corey Brewer was smashed in the face by Westbrook on a successful drive to the rim, and then laid under the basket while he checked for blood as the Thunder moved upcourt.
“It hurt,” said Brewer, who scored 17 points. “First of all, it hurt, it hurt. I was making sure I wasn’t bleeding, but hey, sometimes it doesn’t go your way. You can’t do nothing about it. You got to move on.”
James Harden, the man who leads the NBA in free throws, also took a few shots to the arms without getting the calls. Clint Capela took a blow, and Brewer thought he drew a charge when he was standing straight up.
There were 29 fouls called against the Thunder during a game that had a frenetic pace to it; the Rockets, though they would not say it, figured there should have been more.
In reality, the Rockets didn’t get enough stops on defense in the fourth quarter or make a clutch shot. The Thunder slowed Houston's up-tempo offense down in the second half by packing the paint and challenging the visitors on 3-point attempts. Without Howard for the majority of the second half, rebounding became an issue as the Rockets had to scramble with their shorter lineups.
“They executed their game plan well,” Trevor Ariza said of the Thunder after he missed nine of 12 shots. “We didn’t do enough to win. We just didn’t make enough shots to win the game and they did.”
In the third quarter, the Rockets made just nine of 26 shots and were outrebounded 16-10. With the game slowing down, the Rockets could only manage four fast-break points to 12 for the Thunder. Each team had nine such points in the first half.
“You know what, there were moments when I thought we could have lost our composure, but I don’t think we did as a group,” said interim Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “I think one of the messages that you know the guys were telling one another was, ‘Stick with it, stay together, stick with it.’ The effort that they put forth tonight, I was proud of it. We scratched.”
Minus Howard, the Rockets were short-handed in the frontcourt and gave up 57 rebounds, the second-highest opponent total of the season. Four Thunder players hit double figures in rebounds.
“He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do,” Harden said of missing Howard. “With him going out of the game, we had to switch our lineups a little bit. Clint had to get more minutes. They went down on our bigs. They posted to [Enes] Kanter a couple of times. He scored a few times. It definitely hurt us a lot.”
Foul calls and not having Howard aside, a harsh reality is settling in for the Rockets, who in the span of 48 hours were beaten by 31 points by the San Antonio Spurs and lost a gritty game to the Thunder.
In defeating New Orleans on Monday night, the Rockets moved to a season-high three games above .500. After losing a pair of games to elite teams, their record is back to just a game over .500 as the team continues to hover near the bottom of the playoff standings, currently in the seventh position.
After losing what at times looked like a welterweight title fight, the Rockets have to move forward. The man who took the most lumps was Brewer, who rarely gets mad on the court over contact from opponents.
Trying his best to smile afterward, he probably summed up the evening best:
“Never get mad,” he said. “I felt like I got hit, everybody seen me get hit. Sometimes calls don’t go your way; that’s basketball. I’ve been playing basketball my whole life, I’ve had a lot of calls go my way.”
Just not on Friday night.