Composure in the Clutch,
Thunder Evens the Series
Game Recap: Thunder 98, Rockets 111
Despite getting out to a strong start in the first half, the Thunder’s offense dried up in the second while Houston’s remained steady. In a game of dramatic runs, the Thunder fell short in the second act as Houston’s offensive surges came at a timely point in the game.
After being taken out of its offensive identity in Game 1, the Thunder responded on Thursday with a first half showing of the way it wants to play – with pace, tempo and energy. Thunder guard Luguentz Dort made his way back into the lineup after suffering a sprained knee which kept him out of Game 1. He brought his usual defensive prowess with the incredibly tough defensive assignment to defend James Harden, the same player he matched up against in his first-ever start for the Thunder back in January.
The rookie caused problems for the league’s leading scorer all game long. Taking charges, moving in lockstep with Harden and making every look as contested and tough as possible. By the end of the night, Harden finished with an unimpressive 2-of-11 performance from the 3-point line and 21 points– 15 below his average.
“I’m just doing my job, watching film and listening to my coaches,” said a humble Dort after the game. “He’s a hell of a player and I’ll be ready for him in the next game.”
“Lu was amazing,” said Thunder point guard Chris Paul. “Tried to make it as tough on James as possible. He did a great job of keeping his hands back without fouling… Lu was amazing tonight and he was great for everybody.”
Offensively, the Thunder got off to a hot start in Game 2 thanks to an early punch from 7-foot center Steven Adams who scored or assisted on the Thunder’s first seven points of the game. With four early points on 2-of-2 from the field and three rebounds, Adams helped open up the floor for the Thunder to generate quality looks early in the game.
Overall, the Thunder’s offense hummed at its usual caliber and intensity in the first half. After going 6-of-20 in the first quarter of Game 1, the Thunder went 5-of-9 in the first six minutes. Getting up the floor with pace and tempo allowed the Thunder’s three guards to get into the paint before Houston’s defense was set.
In Game 1, the Thunder was limited to only five makes from the midrange but in just the first quarter of Game 2, the Thunder was 5-of-10 on two pointers outside of 10 feet. At the free throw line, OKC took the overwhelming advantage by shooting 13 compared to the Rockets’ five. This aggressiveness on the offensive end gave the Thunder enough of an edge to maintain a marginal lead over the Rockets in the first half.
“We played really good offensive basketball in that first half,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “I thought we had really good spacing. I thought we got into the defense a lot more than we did in Game 1. I thought we sprayed the ball around… and the free throw line was big.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 13 points on 4-of-10 from the field with an added 4-of-5 from the free throw line. Coming into the game, the sophomore guard wanted to be more aggressive on the offensive end after his nine-point performance on Tuesday. In Game 2, Gilgeous-Alexander took advantage of what the Rockets’ defense gave him at
The Rockets maintained their identity of 3-point shooting in the first quarter as well. Houston sank 8-of-16 3-point attempts in the first frame, but that well dried up considerably in the second stanza as Houston went just 2-of-19. That drought was accentuated by a streak of 13 consecutive misses by Houston midway through the second. The Thunder capitalized on offense and going into the half held a 59-53 lead with its balanced scoring on full display as four players reached double-figures.
The Thunder earned a solid lead of half-a-dozen points at intermission after holding the Rockets to only 18 points in the second quarter. The offense moved at the pace and tempo that allowed the Thunder’s three guards to generate quality looks and combine for 33 points. As a team, OKC shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and only turned the ball over four times. Going into the half, it looked as though the Thunder had found its rhythm offensively and had an opportunity to capitalize out of the half.
However, in both the third and fourth quarters the Rockets erupted on two massive runs on offense to not only close the 6-point gap, but put the Thunder down by as many as 15 points.
In the third quarter, it was a manageable 9-0 run by the Rockets that gave them a lead for the first time since the second frame. To quench the Thunder’s scoring drought, SGA sank a pair of 3-pointers to aid the Thunder in a promising 9-0 run of its own to regain a one-point lead. By the end of the night, Gilgeous-Alexander finished with a game-high 31 points on 9-17 from the field.
“He played a great game, it was great to see him aggressive,” said Coach Donovan. “He was really getting in the lane and creating a lot of shots for himself and others.”
In the fourth, however Houston ignited again but this time without an answer from the Thunder. While Harden rested on the bench, the Rocket’s reserves went on an unanswered 17-point scoring spree. Points in transition and open looks from behind the arc by Danuel House Jr. and Jeff Green put the largest margin of the game between the Thunder and Houston without enough time on the clock for the Thunder to counter.
“We didn’t manufacture enough good possessions there,” said Coach Donovan. “We had some turnovers, we had some shots up against the clock, they got out in transition and scored."
Play of the Game
At the start of the second quarter, rookie Darius Bazley showed some incredible poise in transition. The first-year power forward received a pass from Chris Paul in transition. With Robert Covington on his tail, Bazely dribbled the ball out from under the rim and toward the perimeter until he felt Covington relax in his defensive stance. At that moment, Bazley spun back baseline toward the rim where he drew the help of Steven Adam’s defender. Without a hitch, Darius swiftly flicks the ball over to Adams who was wide open for an easy one-handed flush.
Stat of the Night39
After the Thunder recorded 59 points at the half, the squad put up only 39 points in the final two quarters. In the second half, Houston outscored OKC 39-58 and took control of the momentum. The offensive verve and pace the Thunder showcased in the first half to earn a six-point lead fell flat in the second as the ball movement slowed and turnovers increased.
“You’re playing against the league scoring leader, it’s going to be really awfully difficult to have 39-point halves,” said Coach Donovan. “We weren’t playing with that same kind of force that we did in that first half and that’s the challenge.”
Quotes of the Night
“We’ve got to really made sure that from an identity standpoint of how we need to play, we’ve got to sustain that for 48 minutes and we didn’t do it.” –Coach Donovan
“Our guys worked as hard as we could. Fought really hard and we put ourselves in a position… we gotta get ready for Game 3.” –Chris Paul
The Thunder will have one day of practice and film on Friday to prepare for Game 3. The next game of the series will tip off at 5 p.m. CT on Saturday and will air on FOX Sports Oklahoma and 98.1 FM WWLS The Sports Animal.