Russell Westbrook's astonishing 49 points and 5 assists were not enough as his former teammate James Harden bagged 26 points and dished out 12 assists as both proved their metal as MVP contenders.
Free-throws by Nenê with 0.7 seconds on the clock after a debatable foul call were successfully converted to hand Houston a narrow 2-point win - Oklahoma's comeback just fell short.
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Houston continued to chip away and soon were thrust into the lead after courageous plays from Eric Gordon. He drove towards the paint, and then assisted Nenê to put the hosts 47-45 up with 7 minutes remaining of the first half. It then fell back to the shoulders of Harden and Westbrook - the clear stars of the court - who exchanged buckets and came close to rejections too; Harden's managed to bundle in but Ariza would deny the OKC man with a thunderous block against the glass. That was moments after Nenê surged to dunk with authority - handing the Rockets a little authority too in terms of the scoreline. On the other side of the block, Anderson netted a three to punctuate the run, although by the half, thanks to some Westbrook revival attempts, Houston would lead 67-56 after 24 minutes of action.
Victor Oladipo worked excellently to get the lead back down to single digits, and while the Rockets continuously tried to shrug off the Thunder, they wouldn't wilt; continuously returning the possessions with successful buckets. Álex Abrines helped OKC to hit the 100 mark with an and-1, before a turnover saw Westbrook lay-up at speed to bring the game to a one-possession margin. Harden again got on the pedals but Thunder followed, and then an audacious contested three with around 2:40 left would submerge the Toyota Center in anxiety; with the teams now separated by a mere point.
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On the returning play, Harden contested Westbrook and forced him to miss the long-range attempt, and at 3.8 seconds, Houston called a timeout. From the inbound, Harden was double-teamed and caught out Nenê, who was fouled on his way to the rim. He made the two free throws, and in the sub-second remaining for OKC, they called the timeout but they couldn't make it. A valiant, respectable effort, but the Rockets scraped it.
Fantastic look by Harden to get it to Nene for the game winning FTs ...maybe pic.twitter.com/3wJGCWQHqE— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) January 6, 2017
.@HoustonRockets take this edition of the Westbrook/Harden duel 118-116 over the @okcthunder!— NBA (@NBA) January 6, 2017
Russ put up 4⃣9⃣points in the thriller! pic.twitter.com/CiNMQlzhBa