Thunder Fights to the Finish, Falls Short in the Final Moments
Game 7 Recap: Thunder 102, Rockets 104
In a series between two evenly matched teams, the ultimate deciding factor in the series and the final game came down to the very last possession. Margins for error were razor thin and the Thunder put itself in a position to win down the stretch despite another low-scoring, turnover-heavy game, thanks in large part to the rookie from Montreal.
The do-or-die narrative of Game 7 lived up to the anticipation. The Thunder and the Rockets battled it out for 48 minutes in the midst of 15 ties and 13 lead changes. Ultimately, it would be the final seconds and the final moments that would define a victor in this hard-fought series.
The flood gates of offensive momentum opened up in the first quarter for both the Thunder and the Rockets. The majority of the offense stemmed from the hot shooting from the 3-point line. With a slight 30-29 lead after the first frame, the Thunder recorded its first lead after the first quarter of this entire series and began the night with the rhythm it had always intended. Steven Adams flexed his strength in the paint, wrangling in offensive rebounds with three Houston jerseys draped over him. His two offensive boards gave the Thunder an extra seven points in the first frame.
The shining star of the first half, and ultimately the game, was Thunder rookie guard, Luguentz Dort. For the entire series, the Montreal native has been lauded for his lock down defensive efforts against James Harden. However, in a win-or-go-home Game 7, it was his red-hot offense that caught attention.
In the first quarter, Dort only cashed in one 3-pointer out of three attempts. However, Dort went 3-of-4 from deep in the second quarter to help bolster the Thunder’s lead for the majority of the frame. His four 3s along with two from Danilo Gallinari and Darius Bazley boosted the Thunder to 10 made 3-pointers at the half.
However, Houston saw the Thunder 10 3’s and raised it two. Robert Covington and Eric Gordon both sank four each to keep Houston’s offense alive in the half.
The third quarter, though close, belonged entirely to the Rockets who led for the entire 12 minutes. Another 3-pointer by Gordon and a pair of quick attacks in transition by Russell Westbrook, Houston took its largest lead of the game of eight points after a pair of free throws by Harden four minutes into the third frame. The rookie, Luguentz Dort helped mitigate a major run by knocking down yet another 3-pointer, his fifth of the night.
The Thunder’s clutch veteran, Chris Paul fully engaged in the early minutes of the fourth quarter. On a crafty drive in the lane, the 10-time All-Star put up a reverse in the lane to bring the game to a 3-point margin and begin the steady climb to close the gap. Four fourth-quarter lead changes and three ties later, the Thunder once again found itself in a late-game clutch situation.
“(Houston’s) a good team, they’re going to give you a fight every night. That’s what makes it so fun and super competitive and it brings out the best in you,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.
It was a chaotic final minute for the Thunder and the Rockets. After a 3-pointer by Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort, the Thunder took the lead. P.J. Tucker answered immediately on the other end with a midrange jumper to regain a lead.
There were a series of empty possessions by the Thunder on the other end including turnovers and missed layups. However, the door was still open for OKC after Houston responded with a Gordon turnover and a missed layup by Westbrook.
With the clock at 26 seconds and the Rockets leading by one point, Chris Paul had the ball on offense with a chance to take the lead with a made bucket. The broken floor situation after Gordon’s turnover caused a tough, bang-bang play in which Paul kicked it out to Gilgeous-Alexander who then salvaged a near turnover by dishing it out to the Dort with the hot-hand. Dort wound up to let yet another 3-pointer fly, but Harden anticipated the play and deflected Dort’s look. The ball went out of bounds with 2.7 seconds remaining on the clock.
“I thought in that situation with the floor being broken, we could have certainly maybe got something a little bit better,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “But, obviously Lu played an incredible game and part of the reason why we were that close is because of what he did offensively tonight.”
After a huddle of the referees to confer the instant replay, the Rockets were given the ball on the other end of the floor to inbounds. Even then, the Thunder’s chances were still alive. With just under three seconds left, the Thunder needed to foul twice to send Houston to the free throw line and get the ball back.
With 1.4 seconds left on the clock, it was Robert Covington who the Thunder sent to the foul line. After sinking the first, Covington missed the second. The Thunder grabbed the rebound and called an immediate timeout.
The score was still only separated by two points with just over a second left in the game. Coach Donovan drew up a play to get the ball inbounds but was forced to use his last timeout after the first attempt to get the ball inbounds was thwarted. James Harden committed an off-ball foul in the scramble of the play which allowed OKC the opportunity to shoot a free throw and retain possession. Even after the missed free throw, the Thunder would have 1.1 seconds to get the ball inbounds and heave up a last-second buzzer beater.
Houston swarmed the pass on the inbounds intended for Adams and the Rockets closed the game on a pair of tough defensive possessions.
“This was a tough one,” said Paul after the game. “We had our chances.”
“We did a lot of things tonight to put ourselves in a position to win,” said Coach Donovan. “We needed to make one more play we've kind of weren't able to make that happen.”
Thunder HC Billy Donovan speaks to the media after the Game 7 loss to Houston. pic.twitter.com/tbV3XfUZHZ— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) September 3, 2020
Play of the Game
Chris Paul reached his third career playoff triple double and his first since 2011 in Game 7. One of his 12 assists was a beautiful dish to Dort who cashed in on his second back cut bucket by moving without the ball for an easy two-handed slam to help reel in Houston’s lead in the fourth quarter.
Stat of the Night30
Lu Dort’s 30 points in Game 7 marked multiple milestones by not only a Thunder rookie, but an undrafted NBA rookie as well. In a tremendous capstone to a memorable season, Dort went 10-of-21 from the field and 6-of-12 from the 3-point line.
Dort now holds the OKC record for the most points by a rookie in a playoff game while his 10 made field goals and 6 made 3-pointers set a new mark for an OKC rookie as well. His 30 points mark the most by an undrafted NBA rookie since the induction of the draft in 1947.
“It was one of the most impressive things that I've seen out of a player that young,” said Coach Donovan.
Lu Dort's 30 points is the most ever for an undrafted rookie in a playoff game since the draft was introduced in 1947.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) September 3, 2020
He also now holds the Thunder playoff record for most points, most FGs made, and most 3PT FGs made by a rookie. @luguentz | #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/IyONupTRKe
Quotes of the Night
“In any game, we expected to win. That’s the way we played all season long. Every game, we expected to win.”
“When you talk about the word team, that's what they developed into. They did an unbelievable job from start to finish this year. They stayed together, they played for one another, they did a lot of great things and I was really, really honored and privileged to coach such an incredible group.” –Coach Donovan
Thunder PG speaks with the media after the Game 7 loss to Houston. pic.twitter.com/lBakrg44Fi— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) September 3, 2020
After an emotional 57 days inside of the NBA’s campus, the Thunder will return home to Oklahoma City and reunite with their families. From there, after a memorable and unprecedented season, the team shifts its eyes toward to the bright and promising future ahead of it in the 2020-21 season.