The Thunder stretches the series in a thrilling overtime victory over the Rockets thanks to a lock-down defensive performance from Thunder rookie Luguentz Dort and a stellar offensive showing with four Thunder players finishing with 20 points.
It was a blow-for-blow battle to hold onto a lead between the Rockets and the Thunder in a pivotal Game 3. The Thunder scrapped for every point against a Rockets defense determined to keep them out of the lane. Every whiff of a scoring spurt was matched by the Rockets with an answer of their own. Ultimately, the game would need five more minutes to decide a victor and the team with the greater fight and stamina would come out on top.
In the opening minutes of the game, things looked stagnant for the Thunder’s offense who wanted to play with pace and tempo. The Thunder missed its first three attempts from behind the arc and overall 0-4 from the field. Meanwhile, the Rockets pushed the ball out in transition for easy buckets at the rim by Eric Gordon and Danuel House Jr.
That stagnant offense switched drastically midway through the first quarter. Steven Adams threw down massive dunk after taking P.J. Tucker off the bounce from the wing to bring some verve to OKC. Then, it was a major boost by Thunder’s Sixth Man of the Year contender, Dennis Schröder who came into the game and put up seven quick points in his five minutes of action by sinking four free throws and knocking down a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left in the first frame to help close the gap that was as large as a dozen, back to six.
“The message that I wanted to try to give the guys was play aggressive and attack,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “I thought Dennis set a great tone for that early in the game.”
Houston’s lead never resurged after the initial double-digit margin was eliminated. The Thunder played to its identity throughout the game – moving the ball around the floor, making quick decisions and getting multiple players engaged including its trusty three guard lineup. After a quiet offensive showing for the Thunder’s three guards in OKC’s first two games, the trio of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Schröder combined for 78 points in Game 3 which boosted the Thunder in timely moments throughout the game.
With the added 20 from Danilo Gallinari, four players scored 20 or more points in the playoffs for the first time in Thunder history.
“We were just moving the ball, playing fast on offense. If we get a rebound or they score we just gotta bring it up quickly,” said Schröder. “I think the first two games, second game was a little better but the first game we didn't really do it so I'm glad we did it tonight.”
Defensively, it was a fight to keep Houston’s All-Start MVP candidate at bay but the Thunder’s defensive ace in Luguentz Dort pestered Harden through all four quarters. Even when Houston attempted to shake Dort off of Harden with a series of ball screens, Dort stayed attached and made each of Harden’s looks as tough as possible. The league’s leading scorer finished with 38 points, but it ultimately wouldn’t be enough to outmatch the consistent flow of the Thunder’s offense.
“Overall I thought our guys really just kept battling,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. ”It's going to be 48 minutes and even though every moment wasn't great I thought our guys really kept competing and fighting and battling the whole time through.”
It was a wild final sequence for the Thunder in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. An untimely and unexpected turnover by Houston with 24 seconds left gave the Thunder the opportunity to take the lead with the ball under their own basket. Off of the inbounds Chris Paul drove the lane and whipped a crosscourt pass to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who cashed in on the wide-open 3 with confidence to take the 104-103 lead.
“Felt good as soon as it left my hand,” said the sophomore guard.
A free throw from Danuel House Jr. on the other end tied the ball game at 104 with eight seconds remaining and Chris Paul’s last second reverse fell short before sending the game into overtime. In the five minutes that ensued, the Thunder knew what it needed to do– lock in on defense and continue the pace on offense.
“We’re here to compete and we won’t give up,” said Luguentz Dort postgame.
Play of the Game
The Thunder kept the game neck-and-neck throughout the entire second half. In a pivotal chance to regain the lead going into the clutch moments of the game, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put on a show of crafty basketball. A behind the back, step-back one-footed jumper in the middle of the lane over the outstretched arms of Jeff Green gave the Thunder a one-point lead and forced Houston Head Coach Mike D’Antoni to call a timeout to rally his team.
Stat of the Night
The number of points the Rockets scored in overtime and the number of blocks on the night for Luguentz Dort. Thunder held the high-powered Rockets offense to only one bucket made in the overtime of Game 3 after Harden fouled out in the first minute. Houston, who began to cool off late in the fourth quarter, all but froze in overtime going only 1-of-9 from the field. A major factor in the stymied offense of the Rockets was the empowering defensive performance by Luguentz Dort who had a stellar defensive night for the Thunder overall. Dort finished with three blocks, surpassing his regular season career high of one with ease.
“First off you gotta give credit to Lu Dort on the defensive end, he was amazing… he was locked in,” said Schröder. “Everybody was shifting, everybody was active in helpside so I think that was the key for the whole game and for overtime.”
Quotes of the Night
“This isn’t new for us. Just an amazing team that is gonna fight until the end.” –Danilo Gallinari
"We know that if we play the right way, play to our identity, anything is possible. We’ve proven that so many times this year that’s just our mentality now and it’s part of our nature.” –Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
The Thunder’s next chance to even out the series in Game 4 on Monday at 3 p.m. CT. The game will air on FOX Sports Oklahoma and 98.1 FM WWLS The Sports Animal.