– Danilo Gallinari scored a team high 23 points and Chris Paul
delivered 18 as the Oklahoma City Thunder spoiled the return of Russell
Westbook with a 113-92 rout of the Houston Rockets on Thursday.

Paul also dazzled with five assists and four steals
and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tallied 20 points for the Thunder, who won for
the seventh time in eight games.

Oklahoma City scored 37 first-quarter points to lead by 16,
and the lopsided game was never closer than double figures the rest of the way.

Paul said it was refreshing to have a one-sided victory for
a change.

“We played so many close games it is nice to have a
cushion, especially against a team like this,” Paul said. “Because we
had a big lead, they had to shoot a lot of threes. We will take the win.”

Westbrook was just one of six from three point range and 14
of 26 from the floor. The Rockets’ other major star, James Harden, was just
five of 17 and two of nine from behind the three-point line to stumble to a
season-low 17 points.

Westbrook doesn’t like to play back-to-back games and the
Rockets played Wednesday. Westbrook sat out that one so he could be well rested
to face his former teammates

But on Thursday, he took an early seat on the bench, coming
out of the game halfway through the fourth quarter with the outcome decided.
Westbrook then acted like he didn’t want anything to do with his new team,
choosing to sit by himself on the far end of the bench closet to the locker
room at Chesapeake Arena.

The Thunder showed a short video tribute of Westbrook before
the game as the crowd of 18,200 stood and cheered.

Westbrook played 11 seasons for the Thunder, helping
Oklahoma City to nine playoff appearances and one NBA finals, before being
traded to the Rockets in the offseason for Paul. 

The deal involved Paul and four draft picks going to the
Thunder. Less than a week before trading Westbrook, the Thunder sent Paul
George to the Los Angeles Clippers for second-year guard
Gilgeous-Alexander and veteran swingman Gallinari. 

All of the players the rebuilding Thunder received in those
trades played big roles in Thursday’s decisive win.

-‘Hold the fort down’-

Elsewhere, Josh Richardson scored 29 points and Al Horford
stepped in to fill an offensive void as the Philadelphia 76ers shook off the
absence of Joel Embiid to beat the Boston Celtics 109-98.

Ben Simmons tallied 19 points and Horford chipped in with 17
for the Sixers, who have won all three games this season over Boston and
improved to 18-2 at home this NBA season.

“With Joel out that is a big part of our team, so we
had to find another way to win,” said Horford. “We have to hold the
fort down till he gets back.” 

All-star centre Embiid will undergo surgery on Friday for a
torn ligament in his left ring finger and the club said he would be
re-evaluated in one to two weeks.

Embiid suffered the injury during Monday’s 120-113 win over
the Oklahoma City Thunder. Embiid left in the first quarter but eventually
returned after having two fingers taped together.

Kemba Walker scored a team-high 26 points, Marcus Smart
added 24 and Jayson Tatum had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Celtics, who
lost three in a row for the first time this season.

It was another case of the Celtics giving up a lead and
being unable to bounce back. They were coming off a 129-114 loss to San Antonio
on Wednesday.

Despite the loss, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was trying to
find some positives to take from the game.

“I thought there were a lot more examples of who we
want to be tonight,” he said.

Philadelphia pushed ahead 94-87 with just over six minutes
to go in the fourth when Horford completed a three-point play in front of the
crowd of 20,800 at the Wells Fargo Center arena. 

Simmons missed a dunk on the Sixers’ next possession, and
Walker came back with a three-point play. 

Boston got the ball back and Gordon Hayward scored as the
Celtics got within 94-92 with 5:15 remaining. 

Richardson made two free throws for a 101-94 Philadelphia
lead with 3:08 left. 

The 76ers got the ball again and Simmons drained a
right-handed hook shot for a substantial nine-point lead.

“It was an important win because we have been
struggling,” Horford said. “The Celtics have been doing great. It is
good to get a quality win.”


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