A stretch of six wins in seven games, sullied only by a one-point road loss to the Miami Heat three weeks ago, had lifted the Oklahoma City Thunder back to the brink of .500 for the first time in almost three months on Monday.
However, the Thunder suffered a sixth consecutive loss while one game under .500, losing to the visiting Golden State Warriors 128-120. The Thunder have been below .500 since Nov. 5, when a 108-94 loss at the Milwaukee Bucks marked the second of four consecutive defeats. The Thunder, who have labored mightily to reach break-even status but have failed repeatedly, will have another chance to climb within a game of .500 on Wednesday against the host Houston Rockets.
The meeting will mark the first of three between the teams over the next two weeks. Houston claimed the first game of the season series on Nov. 26, beating the visiting Thunder 118-105.
The Thunder trailed by 21 points early in the third quarter against the Warriors before whittling that margin to 109-107 with 4:15 left. Throughout their stretch of exceptional play, the Thunder have shown a tendency for tenacity and toughness and have consistently exceeded the meager expectations that faced the team entering the season.
Despite the Warriors' reputation, the Thunder didn't fold when the deficit swelled. For a team with one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, the fact that it has established that type of personality comes as no surprise to coach Mark Daigneault.
"That's never been a problem for this team," Daigneault said. "Obviously a lot has been made of the team's willingness to respond to adversity and pull together but we haven't been down 15 or 20 very much in the last two months. I've been as impressed with their ability to band together through a little bit of success and playing with leads. It's as important to do it then as it is when you're down.
"The thing that's been impressive about this team is that they've done that consistently, regardless of the scoreboard."
The Rockets won for the second time in six days on Saturday on the heels of a 13-game losing skid, besting the Detroit Pistons 117-114 despite participating without their three leading scorers.
The Rockets rallied late despite Jalen Green (calf), Kevin Porter Jr. (foot) and Alperen Sengun (illness) all being unavailable. The trio averages a combined 56.4 points -- 51.5 percent of the Rockets' total -- 18.5 rebounds and 12.9 assists, yet the Rockets somehow found a path to victory.
"This was a good win for us," said Rockets assistant coach John Lucas, who was filling in for Stephen Silas while Silas attended a memorial service for his father, longtime NBA player and coach Paul Silas.
"This is how we have to play. When we got it down to the end, we did a great job of hanging in there. We desperately needed this one. And to win this game for coach, hopefully, he enjoys this one."
--Field Level Media