for this game

Rockets lean on defense to hold off Thunder

Nov 2, 2008 - 3:57 AM By Andrew Ferraro PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

HOUSTON (Ticker) -- When their offense failed them, the Houston Rockets stepped things up defensively to earn their third straight win to start the season.

Shooting poorly from the floor, the Rockets hunkered down, opened the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 89-77, at Toyota Center on Saturday night.

Tracy McGrady scored 22 points and was one of six players players to reach double digits in scoring for Houston, which helped its cause by making 27 of its 31 free-throw attempts.

"(Keeping up the intensity when we struggle is) really not hard because we really strive in this locker room on greatness," McGrady said. "That's why we have to come out tonight. Tonight was one of those nights where we couldn't find the rhythm. It was another game. We found a way to push ourselves through it and get a comfortable lead we needed."

Yao Ming collected 16 points and 11 rebounds and Carl Landry added 14 and 11 for the Rockets, who have won six straight at home dating to last March 24.

"This game was very similar to the home opener against Memphis," Yao said. "For whatever reason, we were not making shots and we struggled on defense. We let them (Thunder) come back and we were not really focused out there. In the fourth quarter, I think everybody realized that, if we don't pick it up right now, then the game will slip away from us."

The Thunder remained winless since moving from Seattle during the offseason.

Kevin Durant led all scorers Saturday with 26 points on 11-of-20 shooting. Johan Petro and Jeff Green were the only other Thunder players to reach double digits in scoring, with 10 points each.

"There were a lot of good things but we couldn't make our shots," Thunder head coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "They are too good of a team and they really hurt us defensively. We had a lot of open looks but we didn't make our shots. Their bigs did a really good job.

"Landry gave them a boost and really hurt us on the boards. We played enough to win but not against a team as good as Houston - in Houston."

Durant scored 22 points in the first 29 minutes of the game and the Thunder got within two, 53-51, on Petro's dunk with 6:27 left in the third quarter.

But the Rockets outscored the Thunder, 12-4, over the next four-plus minutes to take a 65-55 lead with 1:38 left in the quarter.

After the Thunder scored the last four points of the third, Houston took control of the game early in the fourth and seemingly cruised to their eighth straight win over the team formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics - a franchise that has not won against Houston since April 4, 2006.

Houston shot a lousy 33 percent from the floor in the first half - en route to 35 percent for the game - but still took a 42-41 lead into the break thanks to a 15-foot bank shot by Scola with 1.3 seconds left in the half.

The Rockets took their biggest lead of the half with 5:28 left in the second when Artest hit a 3-pointer to make it 34-24.

"I thought that we didn't play very smart offensively, " Rockets head coach Rick Adelman said. "We turned it over too many times and in the first half it just seemed like we were content to take the first option and force the play if it wasn't there and not move the ball. We had three or four spurts during the course of the game, and as soon as we had a spurt we let them come right back at us."

But the Thunder, who called a timeout before Artest's shot, responded with a 17-6 run to take their first lead of the game when Green put home a monster dunk with 47 seconds left in the half.

Durant, a University of Texas product, scored nine points during the run as Oklahoma City shut down the Rockets' attack by forcing eight turnovers in the opening 24 minutes.

"We played hard and our defense was good, but we needed to make more shots," Durant said. "We tried to double down on Yao as much as we could and it led to some steals."

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