The contest between the Rockets and the Thunder on Tuesday had far more drama than necessary for a regular season game between two of the West’s top teams.
It was the first time that Russell Westbrook had faced Houston since going down with a season-ending knee injury in last year’s playoffs, which meant a rematch against the intentionally pesky Patrick Beverley — and that led to some fireworks.
The Beverley-Westbrook matchup was insanely intense from the opening tip, and came to a head when Beverley pulled the same move that ultimately caused Westbrook’s injury, grabbing him as he headed to the sidelines to call a timeout.
Beverley’s play might have been overly-aggressive last year, but it was a deliberate attempt to get Westbrook to lose it this time around. And it worked, but just briefly; the end result was OKC and Westbrook largely getting fired up, while the Rockets seemed to come undone during a stretch of cold shooting that put them in too large a hole to be able to dig out of.
James Harden was involved in an incident with the Thunder’s Reggie Jackson and another with Steven Adams, and admitted afterward that all of the non-basketball stuff was too much of a distraction.
Yet for all the chances they might have had down the stretch — most ending when Beverley plowed into Westbrook again, this time while the Thunder star was shooting a 3-pointer with 91 seconds remaining and the Rockets within five — the Rockets knew they had done too much damage in a 10-minute stretch in the first half when they missed all 12 of their shots amid all the histrionics and hysteria of the night.
“I think so,” James Harden said when asked if the Rockets were sidetracked by the chaos. “If we just stick to what we do, do it to the best of our ability no matter what else is going on, we’ll be good. Sometimes we get off and kind of get distracted a little bit. When everybody is on the same page, it’s just better.”
Beverley has embraced the role of being a professional irritant, but especially against the Thunder and Westbrook, he took it too far.
There would have been nothing wrong with standing up to Westbrook, who undoubtedly came out against Beverley with even more of a chip on his shoulder than usual. But the non-stop trash talk and the move to grab Westbrook on the sideline was too much, and only served to unite the Thunder in dismantling the Rockets.