OKLAHOMA CITY — Looking for their seventh straight win Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder did not play particularly fast nor particularly well, at least not in the way they tend to play well.
They were, however, tough.
They challenged just about every 3-pointer Houston hoisted, they beat the Rockets badly on the boards — 52 to 39 — and they were uncharacteristically greedy with their fouls, which meant they were uncharacteristically greedy with the foul shots they allowed Houston to shoot.
Also, believe it or not, they hit their own free throws, too. At least until the very end.
Just your basic blowout — 98-80 — of the team everybody figured to be the second best team in the Western Conference and the second best team in the NBA, too.
Oh, yeah, they did it all without Russell Westbrook, who missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle.
OKC would surely like him back for Saturday night’s game at Dallas, yet against the eight-loss Mavs, the way things are going, the Thunder can afford to be liberal with their best player’s recovery time.
“We’ve got guys that are going to guard, that want to guard,” offered Paul George, who finished with six steals.
They did Thursday.
Of Houston’s 82 shots, 42 of them came from beyond the 3-point arc and only 11 of them went in. Believe it or not, that was still a better percentage than the Thunder’s 9 of 37, but OKC was much better from within the arc, in addition to putting together the game’s most electric offensive run, a 21-6 spurt to close the first half.
George’s 20 points made him the lowest scoring high scorer for Oklahoma City this season and 14 of them, on 5 of 5 shooting, including 3 of 3 from 3-point land, came during that run.
The Thunder also got 19 points and 10 rebounds from Steven Adams and 14 points from both Dennis Schroder and Terrance Ferguson, who suddenly looks like he’s learned to shoot the ball.
Jerami Grant added 11 and Raymond Felton 10 on 5 of 9 shooting.
“I thought at different times in the game,” OKC coach Billy Donovan said, “different guys stepped up.”
Still, the difference was defense and not fouling.
Houston’s stars — James Harden and Chris Paul — only managed a collective 29 points on 11 of 30 shooting.
Carmelo Anthony, in his return to Oklahoma City, did not get any of his 11 shots to go through the hoop, his only two points the result of a Nerlens Noel goaltend.
Still, the stat of the night had to be Houston’s 7 of 10 free-throw shooting. It wasn’t the percentage, but the fact the Rockets attempted an opponent-season-low 10.
“That was a big key for us,” Donovan said, “not sending them to the line.”
At the same time, before missing three of their last four charities, Oklahoma City canned 16 of 20 as it built its lead and knocked the Rockets out.
After going on that run to close the second quarter, the Thunder only scored 39 second-half points.
The 19 points they scored in the fourth quarter was their lowest output since 15 to close against the Los Angeles Clippers the second game of the season. Nevertheless, the game was never closer than 17 in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder are rolling.
Felton believes he knows why.
“Playing together, trusting each other,” he said, “having each other’s back.”