With abated breath, following crucial OKC free-throw lapses, Chesapeake Energy Arena buzzed nervously as Harden (44 pts, 6 ast) failed to convert a last-second attempt that would have sent Oklahoma City into a statistically foreboding 0-3 deficit.
However, against the proverbial wall, this night belonged to Thunder nation.
Russell Westbrook (32 pts, 13 reb, 11 ast) triple-doubled for a second-consecutive contest as his supporting cast supplied just enough fire-power to fight off baleful Houston.
Taj Gibson (20) and Andre Roberson (12 pts, 6 ast, 3 stl, 2 blk, 2-of-3 3PM) complimented a Thunder-reserve unit that combined for 35 points.
Meanwhile, Houston’s reserves added 36 points, as Lou Williams (22), Eric Gordon (12), and starter Ryan Anderson (18) each placed the visiting Rockets on the precipice.
Though, when an anxiety-diminishing final horn resounded deep within Oklahoma City, the sturdy Thunder defense withstood an ever-present 10-35 3PM Houston test.
Behind a razor-thin home win, Billy Donovan’s men now trail the Rockets 1-2 as game four emanates from Chesapeake Energy Arena Sunday afternoon.
- Andre Roberson: Roberson’s vital series contributions apex-ed tonight behind impressive offense and shut-down final possession defense.
- Thunder reserves: Much credit goes to Oklahoma City’s reserve-unit for answering the call and putting together a solid effort. Timely shots along with sustained reserve energy created the necessary room for Oklahoma City to escape victorious.
- Russell Westbrook: In addition to another triple-double, Westbrook led all fourth-quarter scorers with nine points. The MVP front-runner’s explosive bursts just did negate his almost calamitous three missed free-throw attempts.
- Taj Gibson: Gibson banged and bruised Houston’s front line to help OKC garner a slight 50-48 points-in-the-paint edge.
- Thunder fast-break advantage: Behind rebound run-outs and purposeful rim-runs, Oklahoma City dominated the Rockets 19-4 in fast-break scoring.
- Westbrook missed free throws: As mentioned, Westbrook’s 3-of-6 FTM fourth quarter almost placed the Thunder in an ominous position.
- Fourth-quarter defense: Again, Houston outplayed Oklahoma City during the final frame. Though, this time the Rockets’ 30-22 fourth-quarter advantage was not enough to overcome OKC’s early foundation.
- Steven Adams: Adams’ struggles continued as the missing link shot 2-5 from the field and finished with four points on 2-5 shooting with no free-throw attempts.
THUNDER LINES OF WONDER
- Russell Westbrook: 38 mins, 11-of-24 FGM, 32 pts, 13 rebs, 11 ast, 3 stl —only 5 turnovers and one 3PA.
- Andre Roberson: 38 mins, 5-8 FGM, 2-of-3 3PM, 12 pts, 6 rebs, 4 ast, 2 stl, 3 blk: game-saving defensive contest vs. Harden.
- Taj Gibson: 29 mins, 10-13 FGM, 20 pts
- Thunder bench: Five of OKC’s nine made three-point attempts, 13-of-25 FGM overall, 35 pts
Tonight’s win preserved Oklahoma City’s season. No NBA franchise has returned from an 0-3 playoff deficit, and spurred forth by a proactive crowd, the Thunder dodged such circumstances.
Sunday’s contest has all the early makings of a classic game-four duel between MVP-rivals Westbrook and Harden.