Thunder at Houston Rockets Game 4 Recap – April 23, 2017

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

Hearts were stopped. The Thunder had just pulled off an unthinkable four-point play. Steven Adams hit his first free throw, then intentionally missed the second off the front iron, grabbed the ball and zipped it back to Russell Westbrook, who drained a three-pointer with 18 seconds left. The Thunder all of the sudden trailed by just one point, and tried to trap the ball in the backcourt for a steal. That’s when things went haywire.

The ball squirted out to Houston’s Trevor Ariza, who hesitated out behind the three-point line just long enough to freeze the defense and hit Nene under the basket. The Thunder’s Jerami Grant reached out to wrap up the Rockets’ center, but got there too late and surrendered the bucket, plus the foul. Although there was one harrowing loose ball situation left after that, the bounce didn’t go the Thunder’s way. Neither did the game. It was a 113-109 loss in Game 4, leaving the Thunder down 3-1 in the series.

“We made some mental mistakes, but I thought we played a good game overall. We obviously didn’t close the way we wanted to but we put ourselves in position to win the basketball game,” Westbrook said. “They made a run and some guys made some big shots for them down the stretch. There are some mental mistakes we need to fix.”

Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club built an 11-point lead late in the first quarter, but the Rockets quickly rallied with a run of seven straight points to end the period. The Thunder finished the first quarter with seven blocks, an Oklahoma City record, including four from Andre Roberson which was a playoff career-high.

Dre block. Jerami SLAM. #ThunderUp

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5 blocks and 2 steals from Dre today. Bud Light Photo of the Game.

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Houston scores the first two out of the break as well while the Thunder went four minutes without a point. But when Westbrook checked back in, the Thunder racked up six points in a 31-second span on a Westbrook technical foul then two assists from the Thunder point guard, to Doug McDermott on a three and to Enes Kanter for a dunk. The Thunder’s lead waxed and waned the rest of the half and then throughout the second half as well. Houston always had an answer.

Despite 14 first half blocks by the Thunder, the Rockets managed to chip the lead back down to four at halftime. In those opening two quarters, Westbrook racked up his third-consecutive postseason triple-double, the most since Wilt Chamberlain put up four straight in 1967. He finished the game with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists and ignited a 12-2 Thunder burst to start the second half. But the Thunder’s offense stalled again by missing eight straight shots and Houston ripped off 12 straight points of their own in what was a defensive struggle in the third period when both teams scored just 19 points.

The fourth quarter was the complete opposite, as the Rockets outscored the Thunder 40-32 by hitting 12-of-14 free throws. Meanwhile the Thunder went just 8-of-16 from the free throw stripe due to the Rockets intentionally fouling to try to disrupt offensive rhythm. Houston again scored nine straight points early in the fourth quarter to take a three-point lead, their first of the game since the opening minutes. Westbrook helped ignite a quick 5-0 burst, but from there on out the Rockets were mostly in control of the run of play.

“We had some opportunities for our second unit to step up and make plays but the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Donovan said. “One thing about Houston is that they have a very explosive offensive team.”

The Thunder stayed within one possession for a few minutes, then the lead slipped to five on a second chance layup for James Harden, two of 25 Rockets points off missed shots on the night. Then Eric Gordon answered three Westbrook free throws with a three-pointer of his own and Nene tipped in a missed three-point jumper – part of a perfect 12-for-12, 28-point night for Houston’s backup center.

“They’re finding the pocket pass. I should have been more aggressive on some of them,” center Steven Adams said. “From there it was the offensive boards. He was getting us on that. We have to box him out even more.”

In the end, despite a masterful defensive performance by Andre Roberson on Harden, who finished just 5-for-16 shooting and seven free throw attempts, the Thunder couldn’t control Houston’s secondary playmakers. The Rockets’ bench racked up an unbelievable 64 points. While the Thunder out-played the Rockets in a bunch of categories, it was not quite enough to come away with a win.

Now, there’s a short turnaround and the Thunder’s backs are against the wall. Game 5 in Houston will be a dogfight, as the Thunder tries to force a Game 6 back in Oklahoma City. From there, anything can happen.

“We just have to keep our confidence, make adjustments and go back and look at the film,” Roberson noted. “We just have to move forward.”

Thunder Highlights From Game 4

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By the Numbers

14 – Blocked shots for the Thunder on the night, all in the first half, including five by Andre Roberson

25 – Second chance points for the Rockets due to 13 offensive rebounds and a plus-five rebounding edge

1967 – The last time a player racked up three-straight playoff triple-doubles, as Russell Westbrook completed that feat with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists

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The Last Word

“We’re in this together. We play as a team. That’s all that matters.” – point guard Russell Westbrook


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