With an infamous PJ Tucker corner three coming off of a James Harden pass, the Rockets grew their lead to 102-97 with 59.7 seconds left in the game. It felt like the Thunder were heading into their third straight loss in the series that would have finished OKC’s season.
But instead, the Thunder finished the game on a 22-5 run in six minutes and was able to escape the jaws of defeat with an impressive and unlikely win.
The biggest highlight of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s tenure with the Thunder happened when Chris Paul made an impressive swing pass to him in the corner where he took and made a corner three that gave OKC the one-point lead with 14.3 seconds left. Gilgeous-Alexander was excellent all game long, finishing with 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and four steals in a massive workload of 48 minutes.
Shai has been labeled as the next franchise cornerstone of this team, and today was his first of hopefully many big playoff moments with that corner three, where he took the season-altering shot with a calm, cool and collected demeanor.
The game would go another five minutes after Danuel House split a pair of free throws to tie the game after regulation. Paul had a chance to win the game at the end but missed a reversed layup with Rockets defenders surrounding him.
Thunder fans were begging Billy Donovan to let Lu Dort finish the game after doing a marvelous job of defending Harden. Their wish finally came true in overtime (albeit probably because Steven Adams suffered a right knee contusion and couldn’t play OT). The Thunder finally played their version of small ball with their Three Guards, Dort, and Danilo Gallinari at the five that resulted in Oklahoma City outscoring the Harden-less Rockets, who fouled out less than a minute into OT, 15-3 in the five-minute session.
The offensive explosion from OKC in the final six minutes was a breath of fresh air. The Thunder began the game once again, playing stagnant and just playing an ugly overall style of basketball that resulted in bad shots deep in the shot clock while the other four guys would stand around and watch. The Thunder were horrendous in the half-court and would refuse to push the pace until the second half, which coincides with the Thunder’s comeback in a game that felt like an inevitable loss.
This was a much-needed win to avoid putting the Thunder’s season on life support, but I am not sure if they can replicate these same results three more times with how they played today for most of the game. It will be interesting to see what Donovan will do in the next match in both scenarios where Adams is and is not available to play.
Will he continue to trust the Kiwi and play him despite the three-game sample size in this series showing that it can cause more harm than good or will Donovan finally match small ball with the small ball and move Gallinari at the five and let Dort pair the minutes with Harden?
Who knows, but those questions are better off being asked tomorrow; for tonight, let’s celebrate this win and ensure our blood pressure comes back down to normal levels.
EDIT: Billy Donovan stated after the game that Steven Adams was healthy enough to return, but he stuck with the Three Guard, Dort, and Gallo lineup because of how well they played. Which is good news as it shows Billy can make the proper adjustments when push comes to shove, it’s just unfortunate that it seems to take forever for those changes to materialize.