Thunder at Houston Rockets Game 3 Recap – April 21, 2017

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

The ball hung in the air for an eternity for Thunder fans, but as it clanged off the rim and fell to the ground the buzzer sounded, and a massive exhale let out in Chesapeake Energy Arena.

With its backs against the wall, the Thunder made just enough plays down the stretch to back up its effort from the first three quarters to secure a 115-113 victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 3 of this first round series.

Thunder takes Game 3! Watch postgame now on Fox Sports Oklahoma.

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James Harden’s missed three at the buzzer would have won it for Houston, but as it stands Head Coach Billy Donovan’s group gets a chance to double down on its home court advantage, trailing 2-1 in the series heading into Sunday afternoon’s Game 4 at home.

“We came out and competed all throughout the game,” guard Andre Roberson said. “We came out with a victory. We know it’s only one win and it’s first to four. We’ll come back Sunday ready to go.”

The Thunder couldn’t have scripted a better start to this one, ripping off a 13-4 burst to begin the game with some suffocating defense that forced Houston into five turnovers and 2-for-9 shooting over the first six and a half minutes of action. The Thunder pressured the ball and forced Houston to try to execute for all 24 seconds of the shot clock. With the buzzer as the sixth defender, the Thunder forced Houston into countless possessions that were desperation situations, and into three shot clock violations for the game.

“We’re just trying to be disruptive as much as we can and take them out of their offense,” Roberson explained. “We did a better job in our pick-and-roll tonight, calling out coverages and staying man on man.”

Thunder Defense in Game 3

Throughout the game there were a bunch of runs by each team. 9-0 here, 9-0 there as the game see-sawed, but never got out of the Thunder’s control. It seemed unlike in Houston, the Thunder had an answer in front of the raucous home crowd. As a team, the Thunder forced Houston into just 10 assists compared to 16 turnovers and 45.8 percent shooting from the field, including 10-for-35 from the three-point line. Houston did manage to rack up 33 free throw attempts, which made the difference to cause this one to be a close game.

Part of the reason for the Thunder’s stout defense was its prolific offense, which hummed by racking up 55.4 percent shooting, including a 9-for-19 mark from the three-point line. Behind Russell Westbrook’s 32-point, 13-rebound, 11-assist triple-double, the Thunder notched 24 assists through ball and player movement. Donovan utilized Jerami Grant, Andre Roberson and Steven Adams as rollers in the lane, and they found open shooters like Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott for jumpers. Eight different Thunder players recorded an assist on the night.

Andre and Alex from 3! Thunder up 93-83 headed to Q4.

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“When you catch it in the pocket they have to react to you,” Grant explained. “You either go up and dunk the ball, shoot a floater or find the open man.”

“That was our emphasis, really move the ball and make them guard multiple actions,” McDermott explained. “We did a good job of that. Everyone was involved in that.”

Westbrook was of course phenomenal, utilizing his relentless energy to turn the Thunder loose in transition to the tune of 19-4 over Houston’s fast break game. He hit mid-range jumpers over big men on switches, showed restraint on the perimeter and aggressiveness at the rim and then manipulated the pick-and-roll to generate high percentage shots for his teammates.

“He was unbelievable tonight, the way he played from start to finish,” Donovan said of Westbrook. “He got guys shots. He took advantage of switches when they switched.”

“They’re bringing the whole house once I cross halfcourt. They’re bringing everybody,” Westbrook said of the Rockets’ game plan. “So my job is to be able to find my teammates, guys like Taj, Steven and Dre and make it easy for them.”

Down the stretch, getting all of those guys involved came in handy. Grant scored on a driving lefty layup after Westbrook turned down a tough jumper, then Adams delivered with a tip-in with 35 seconds to go. On the ensuing possession, it was the defense that made the difference and helped seal the Thunder win.

After causing havoc along the perimeter, Harden slipped and fell and was forced to call a timeout with 7 seconds to go on the shot clock. Out of the break he missed a deep three. Westbrook split each of his six free throw attempts down the stretch, so with 8.4 seconds to go the Rockets still had a chance, but Harden’s final three fell short, and the Thunder survived.

Game 3 Thunder Highlights

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By the Numbers

11 - Assists for Russell Westbrook, part of his second straight postseason triple-double, the first player to do that since Jason Kidd in 2002

25-4 - The Thunder’s advantage in points off turnovers for the night, which led to a 19-6 edge in fast break points

55.4 – Shooting percentage for the Thunder on the night, including a 9-for-19 (47.4 percent) mark from three-point range

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The Last Word

“We had stamina and we stuck with it for the full 48 minutes.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan

His 7th career Playoff TD. Russ 32p-13r-11a. Bud Light Photo of the Game

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20 points from Taj tonight! Here's his postgame interview with Lesley McCaslin.

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