Rockets top Thunder in OT for 10th straight win, eye play-in

OKLAHOMA CITY — Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, front office personnel and members of the support staff lined the hallway outside the Paycom Center visitors’ locker room, hollering, hugging and high-fiving players after the most surprising winning streak of the NBA season reached double digits.

The Rockets extended their winning streak to 10 games with a 132-126 overtime win Wednesday night over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It’s the second-longest winning streak in the league this season, trailing only an 11-game run by the NBA-leading Boston Celtics. It’s Houston’s longest winning streak since the Rockets won 11 in a row in March 2018, when MVP James Harden led them to a league-best 65-17 record.

It was a milestone moment for a franchise in “Phase 2” of a rebuild after enduring the agony of finishing last in the Western Conference the previous three seasons.

“Oh, it was lit,” Rockets rising star Jalen Green said after a 37-point, 10-rebound, 7-assist performance. “Everybody was happy, celebrating, screaming. We fought for that one. We worked hard. That’s how we should react after going 10-0. We’ll still keep going. We got what, 10 more games left?”

Houston (37-35) has realistic hope of playing beyond the 10 games remaining on its regular-season schedule. The win over the Thunder, who were without star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander due to a quadriceps contusion, allowed the Rockets to remain only one game behind the Golden State Warriors in the fight for the West’s final play-in spot.

“We’re going to get a play-in game,” Green said. “We’re going to keep going.”

Green, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft whose career has been marked by inconsistency, has been spectacular throughout the winning streak. He has averaged 29.8 points over the 10 games, shooting 51.0% from the floor and 45.9% from 3-point range.

Green’s 37 points against the Thunder and all-defensive candidate Luguentz Dort came on 14-of-24 shooting, including 7-of-11 from 3-point range. He put the finishing touches on the performance by hitting a step-back 3 over Dort with 1:04 remaining in overtime and driving down the middle for a reverse layup in traffic for the dagger on the next possession.

“We know he’s that guy,” said Rockets forward Dillon Brooks, who scored eight of his 20 points in overtime. “So we let him loose, we let him go and he’s on a hot streak.”

Houston coach Ime Udoka praises Green more for his improvement in other facets of the game — specifically defense, rebounding and passing — than for his scoring production. Udoka showed the Rockets one film clip in the locker room postgame: a clutch corner 3 by Jabari Smith Jr. off of a drive-and-kick dish from Green that epitomized the trust that the first-year Houston coach has emphasized.

“I think it’s invaluable for our young guys to go through this,” Udoka said of the Rockets playing meaningful games in late March. “And obviously making the playoffs or play-in will be another step, but just going through what they are now and coming on the other side of .500 is huge for them.”

At 22, Green is one of a few young, high lottery picks making a major impact for the Rockets during their run.

Rookie forward Amen Thompson had 25 points and 15 rebounds in Wednesday’s win, the first 25-point, 15-rebound outing for a Houston player since Yao Ming in December 2022, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Thompson, 20, the No. 4 overall pick in the last draft, has averaged 15.4 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 62.5% from the floor during the Rockets’ 10-game run. Houston has allowed only 107.6 points per possession with Thompson on the floor during that span, which is stingier than the NBA’s top-ranked defense for the season.

Smith, 20, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 draft, has been solid since sliding from power forward to center after franchise cornerstone Alperen Sengun suffered a severely sprained ankle in the second game of the streak. Smith, who had 16 points in the win over the Thunder, has averaged 13.3 points and 7.4 rebounds during the streak.

“These guys want to win,” said Rockets point guard Fred VanVleet, who Houston recruited in free agency to serve as a leader for the young team. “They want to do stuff the right way. They’ve been doing everything that’s asked of them. The result was not always the best, but over this last stretch here, we’re starting to see some of the results and you could see them realizing the process works and buying in and trusting. Confidence grows, and then you run off a couple in a row.

“We’re in the middle of that kind of process right now and trying to enjoy every moment of it.”

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