Half way through the third quarter, I was starting to write up tonight’s piece. The main points I was going to make was how this game looked like a schedule loss with OKC missing three of their best eight players — including both of their rotation bigs — and how fans shouldn’t take much away from this game.
But I should known by now how this team is never truly out of a game. Even if the opposition is leading by 15 with 7:18 left in the game. Which was the case tonight.
OKC finished the game on a 27-7 run when ironically their best player, floor leader, and alpha dog closer, Chris Paul, was on the bench for most of that run.
The Thunder offense looked disorganized and stagnant after Steven Adams left the game early on. The only player that was able to create their own shot was Paul, who had a hot first half with 27 points on 9-12 shooting and kept OKC in the game, being down just 64-57 at intermission.
But as the second half progressed, the Rockets were able to expand their lead into double digits in a game that looked like a much needed win for them. Heading into the fourth quarter, OKC needed a big close-out in order to win this one, and that’s exactly what they got. Outscoring the Rockets 41-20.
Dennis Schroder, Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the charge in this comeback, and each played a pivotal role in mounting back into this game.
Schroder finished with 23 points, and scored 15 points in the fourth quarter. Schroder was the leader of the fourth quarter lineup that helped get OKC back in this game, hitting clutch jumpers and dishing out three assists.
Gallinari scored 25 points, with 12 of those scored in the fourth quarter. Gallinari made three threes in the final quarter (and was fouled on a 4th 3-point attempt) and helped OKC cut into the lead with his spot up shooting late in the game.
For the first three quarters, SGA was pretty quiet this game, only shooting the ball eight times. Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t looking to score and wasn’t being aggressive enough for OKC; the scoreboard reflected that. Some of his shots were blocked early on in his drives, and Russell Westbrook kept backing him down in the post all game long. This double dose makes you wonder how much that impacted Gilgeous-Alexander’s confidence in looking to score.
But in the fourth, Gilgeous-Alexander stepped up big, scoring seven key points along with a couple of steals. The biggest play of the night for Gilgeous-Alexander came with 1:16 left in the game where the Rockets led by one. He was able to strip the ball from James Harden and got an easy dunk on the other side, giving OKC the lead. Gilgeous-Alexander finished with a 13 point and 10 rebound double-double.
OKC gave Luguentz Dort his first career start tonight, and the move paid off big time for them. Dort was great on defense and filled in the role of the Thunder Starting SG who gives James Harden fits. Much like the Blazers game against Damian Lillard, Dort stayed aggressive and was a pain to deal with for Harden. Harden struggled this game, scoring 29 points but on 9-29 shooting, including a horrid 1-17 from three. Dort even contributed on offense with eight points.
This was a game where the Thunder could’ve packed it in and take the loss and many people would’ve understand. Playing on the road against a playoff team with three of your top eight rotation players all missing this game. The Rockets were getting anything they wanted in the paint with OKC not having any of their bigs available. Especially Westbrook, who finished with 32 points on a super efficient 16-24 shooting with most of those buckets coming in the post and in drives to the basket. Westbrook also had 12 assists and 11 rebounds, which marked just the second player (LeBron James the other) in NBA history to have a triple-double against every team in the league.
But nope, this team doesn’t quit and continues to play hard no matter what the deficit is or who isn’t out there. Today was just another example of that.