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Lamb Outplays Harden As Thunder Crushes Rockets

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The building was packed. Nearly every seat was filled 10 minutes before the opening tip. Dwight Howard was booed. James Harden was REALLY booed.

The emotion of playing without Russell Westbrook was only amplified by playing against the opponent that hurt him. The bliss of a 117-86 win will last a while.

The Thunder fans were out for blood, and the team responded.

Oklahoma City exploded out of the gate to a 13-0 lead thanks to some hot shooting and excellent defense around the rim. With every made shot, the sold-out Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd got louder and louder, and the Rockets looked more and more flustered.

In fact, Houston didn't score until the 5:26 mark of the first quarter. The high-powered Rockets missed the target on their first 12 shot attempts until finally breaking through on Dwight Howard's layup. 

Jeremy Lamb spoke about how important that hot start was for Oklahoma City. 

"It was huge," Lamb said.  "When you can take somebody's confidence, that's what you want.  Starters played great defense early, took their heart away."

Things evened out from that point, but Houston still faced a major uphill climb. They began that climb by ending the first quarter on a 7-2 run to cut the score to 26-14, keeping the boat afloat just a little longer.

After the emotion and energy wore off a bit, the two teams settled in during the second quarter. Houston got the game back at its pace, running, gunning and pushing the tempo. Even without Westbrook, the Thunder kept up. The two rivals each scored 30 and we headed to halftime with a 56-44 score.

If there was any chance that the Rockets were still in doubt as to how tonight would go, the Thunder promptly schooled them in the third quarter.

After Chandler Parsons drilled a 3-ball to open the period, OKC went right back into dump truck mode, destroying everything in sight. The Thunder poured in 15 straight points to snatch a commanding 71-47 lead and end the competitive portion of Sunday night's game.

Kevin Durant finished with 33 points on 11-17 and 13 rebounds while Reggie Jackson added 16 points and eight assists.  Lamb finished with 22 points on a lights-out 8-10 shooting to pace the Thunder's bench.  

Overall, Oklahoma City shot a blistering 57.3 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from downtown.  The Thunder held Houston to 36.5 percent from the floor and just 25 percent from deep.  OKC won the rebound battle 49-38 and held the high-velocity Rockets to just 10 fast-break points. 

Aaron Brooks' 17 points led Houston, while former Thunder favorite James Harden scored only eight on 2-9 shooting.  Houston's other new face, Dwight Howard, was also quiet.  Howard scored nine points to go with nine rebounds while battling against a stingy Kendrick Perkins.

Rockets' coach Kevin McHale says despite playing four games in five nights, fatigue wasn't a factor for his team.

"We're not heaving boulders, we're shooting a basketball," McHale said. "I think that thing weighs an ounce or two, whatever the hell an ounce is. Anyone who says that is looking for excuses. Just go play."

If you're going by what McHale said, Harden decided to "look for an excuse." 

"It wasn't good at all, we just looked tired out there. This is four in five nights for us. We were looking kind of sluggish out there and we didn't have our mojo like we needed to."

Thunder coach Scott Brooks was excited about his team's defensive performance, citing the strong start as the key to victory. 

"Defensively, I felt like our guys really locked in," Brooks explained.  "That set the tone of the game on the defensive end.  Going into the game, we did not want to give up transition points or shots and I don't think they had many going into that fourth quarter."

Durant also praised the defense, specifically the Thunder's bigs, for keeping Houston in check. 

"We always want to play off our defense," Durant said.  "You gotta give credit to Perk and Serge doing a great job in the interior and the point guards and wings doing a great job containing the ball."

The Thunder (25-5) hosts Portland on New Year's Eve, while the Rockets (21-12) will ring in the New Year against the Kings. 

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