Fantastic Fourth, Clutch PG Three Clinches Last Second Win - OKC 112, HOU 111

By Nick Gallo | Digital Content Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

For the first time all night on a James Harden free throw, during the unlucky attempt number 13 for the Houston Rockets guard, the ball caromed off the rim and out. It was just the window of luck that the Thunder needed.

Russell Westbrook snagged the ball and started to race up court. With no timeouts and less than 10 seconds to go, the Thunder’s point guard had to improvise under duress. Trapped just before half-court, Westbrook dished to Steven Adams up ahead for a lightning quick give and go. As soon as the ball was back with Westbrook, it was back out of his hands and into the corner. That part of the play was what Billy Donovan had drawn up, and Paul George executed it to perfection. Rising up with a hand in his face, George buried a go-ahead three-pointer with 1.8 seconds to go for his fourth game-winning bucket of the season.

“Everybody just tried to trap Russ in the back, get the ball out of his hands and he made a great play to get it to Steven and Steven gave it back,” said George, who finished with 27 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals. I knew if I got the ball, I had enough time and space to get a shot up.  

“(George did a) good job just staying with it,” Westbrook said. “(He) wasn’t going all night, but he made a shot when it counts. That’s all that matters.”

Just as it had done the entire fourth quarter, the Thunder got another crucial stop on the Thunder’s final possession, then scrambled to hug one another in front of the bench to congratulate George and Westbrook for their fantastic last-second play, and a vital 112-111 victory.

“The atmosphere was crazy. You know it was crazy,” George grinned. “It had a playoff kind of feel tonight, and that was a good preview of what is to come soon.”

The win put the Thunder one step closer to cementing its Western Conference playoff seed, as a win tomorrow against the Milwaukee Bucks would clinch he sixth seed and a loss would leave seventh or eighth still in play. The build up to that fourth-straight victory for the Thunder was a slow burn that allowed for a monster fourth quarter comeback.

In the opening quarter, the Thunder and the Rockets traded jabs in their own respective styles. A pair of Houston 9-0 runs came from dunks at the rim and three-pointers in isolation or on kick outs. For the Thunder it was all about pushing it in transition (32 fast break points in the game), as the Thunder ripped off 8 straight points behind pitch-ahead passes out in the open floor and beat up Houston on the boards with Steven Adams grabbing a career-best 9 first quarter rebounds.

Early in the second, the Thunder missed eight straight shot attempts, and Houston’s lead swelled to 48-39, but Donovan’s club kept battling back and hanging in there. The Rockets had one last salvo before halftime, and it was a killer – a Harden three-point play that made it 60-51 at the break.

It got worse right out of the gates, as Houston put together a four-point possession to drive the lead up to 13, but again the Thunder had an answer by ripping off 8-straight points behind a Westbrook drive and three-pointers from George and Terrance Ferguson. Houston’s Gerald Green responded with back-to-back impossible three-pointers on the move with a hand in his face, as both he and Chris Paul combined to shoot 10-of-16 on three-pointers to begin the game. Both players are 35 percent three-point shooters for the season.

After shooting just 14-of-35 (40 percent) in the paint over the first three quarters, the Thunder finally got back to converting around the rim to start the fourth quarter, going 4-for-4 right out of the gates. That started to build the momentum to stir up a comeback, then a quick flurry delivered it fully in front of the raucous Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd. First a Nerlens Noel push shot, then a Paul George and-one layup and a Westbrook three-pointer, and the Rockets lead was down to just 99-93.

“We started hitting shots, came out with a sense of urgency, played some good defense and just pulled out the win,” said forward Jerami Grant, who chipped in 10 points and a block to become one of just 9 players in the NBA with 60 steals and 100 blocks this year.

The game then hung in the balance, as the teams traded stops for five straight possessions heading into a timeout. It was palpable, the feeling hung in the air, that whichever team broke the stalemate would have an avalanche of energy at its back. Coming out of the timeout, Donovan drew up a perfectly executed lob play from Westbrook to Steven Adams, and the tide officially turned. George hit a jumper then Westbrook buried another three to cap a 15-0 run, which featured a stretch of stops on 9 consecutive defensive possessions for the Thunder.

“(We) got stops on demand, made it tough for them,” said Westbrook. “They were making tough shots throughout the third quarter, but we stayed with it and stayed true to our principles.”

“I felt like every shot was contested,” added guard Terrance Ferguson. “We stuck to our plan. Just made them take tough shots and at the end they starting missing, we got the rebound, played fast, and we got the win at the end of the day.”

Westbrook’s triple gave the Thunder a 100-99 lead and sent the home crowd into a frenzy, but there were still over 5 minutes remaining. Houston had one more flurry, and it seemed to be enough to thwart that furious Thunder rally. When a loose ball after a missed Thunder three-pointer squirted into the backcourt, George was tripped without a call, Houston’s Paul scored out ahead and it looked like the Thunder was in danger.

Down four with 27 seconds to go, Westbrook made three incredible plays to galvanize the comeback. First was a frog-legged three-pointer from the top of the key that splashed in with 20 seconds left. After two Harden free throws, the Thunder had to take a pair of timeouts, the first to set up a play and the second after George slipped catching the inbounds pass. Despite there being just 12 seconds left, Westbrook confidently went to the rim to cut the deficit back to one at 110-109.

That set up Harden’s final two free throw attempts, and Westbrook and Adams’ heads up play to manufacture the George three-pointer to give the Thunder the win and Westbrook his 10th assist on the night. That helper was part of Westbrook’s 29-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double, his 33rd this season and the 137th of his career, one shy of tying Magic Johnson for second all-time on the triple-double list.


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