Never in it: Three takeaways from Wednesday’s 133-96 loss to the Thunder

Feb 15, 2023; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun (28) reacts after a play against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Never in it: Three takeaways from Wednesday’s 133-96 loss to the Thunder

The Rockets will head to the All-Star break losers of seven straight after Wednesday’s 133-96 loss in Oklahoma City. The Rockets trailed by as many as 20 in the first quarter, 31 in the second, and 40 in the third quarter. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led all scorers with 29 points on just 14 field goal attempts. Jabari Smith Jr’s 15 points led the Rockets, but the Rockets shot a season-low 33.7% from the field.

Letting go of the rope

The last game before the All-Star break can go one of two ways. You either play hard knowing you have more than a week before your next game, or you drop your level of play and let go of the rope. On Wednesday, the Rockets let go of the rope. It took less than five minutes for the Thunder to build a 10-point lead, and the Rockets showed very little interest in competing outside of a stretch in the second quarter. They were outworked in all phases and exerted more energy yelling at officials and slamming the basket stanchion than they did defending the Thunder.

Wednesday’s game was especially disappointing after the way Oklahoma City beat the Rockets 11 days ago, hanging 153 points on them in a 32-point win. The difference in effort level was illustrated by the Thunder winning the third quarter 40-24 after the Rockets trimmed a 31-point lead down to 22 at halftime.

Awful first quarter

The Rockets trailed 38-21 after the game’s first 12 minutes, but even the scoreline wasn’t indicative of how poorly they played. Houston shot 23% (5-of-22) from the field, 1-of-7 from behind the 3-point line and committed five turnovers. The only reason the Rockets were able to eclipse the 20 point mark in the period was because they attempted 17 free throws, but they still missed seven of those. To recap, the Rockets had as many turnovers as made baskets, missed two more free throws than they made shots from the field, and they were whistled for three technical fouls.

Jalen Green leaves with an injury

Jalen Green did not play in the second half after suffering a groin injury in the final minute of the second quarter. Green missed all four of his field goals in a three-point first quarter, but he was a bright spot in the second, scoring 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting before leaving the game. Green had generally been healthy this season, missing just one of the Rockets’ first 49 games due to a suspension, but a calf bruise forced him to miss three games a couple of weeks ago.

The Rockets won’t play again for nine days, but it seems very possible they will be without their top three guards from the start of the season in Green, Kevin Porter Jr., and Eric Gordon, who was traded, when they return from the All-Star break.

Next up

The Rockets will return from the All-Star break on Feb. 24 when they visit the Golden State Warriors.

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