By Michael Kinney
Facing an 0-3 hole in their first-round battle with Houston, Oklahoma City did something it hadn’t done all series. They fought.
For two straight games, the Rockets dictated how the games while the Thunder allowed it to happen. In Game 3 Oklahoma City showed they had enough of it as they pulled out a 119-107 overtime victory Saturday to get their first win in the series and put themselves back on solid ground.
“I think we just wanted to fight,” Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul said. “We know how tough it is to come back down 3-0. We wanted to fight tonight and I think that’s what we did.”
With just 24 seconds left in regulation, Oklahoma City trailed Houston 103-101, but the Rockets had the ball. However, the Thunder defense was able to force the Rockets into a shot clock violation and took over with enough time to tie the game or win it.
Instead of letting the clock ticked down and settle for a poor last-second shot, Paul drove down the middle of the lane and attracted three defenders to hi. He then threw a pass to an open Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the corner.
Gilgeous-Alexander calmly drained a 3-pointer to put the Thunder up 104-103 with 13.8 on the clock.
“Felt good as soon as it left my hand,” the 22-year-old Gilgeous-Alexander said.
Unfortunately for Gilgeous-Alexander, on the ensuing play he was called for a foul on Houston’s Daniel House, who tied the game by making 1-of-2 shots from the free-throw line.
Oklahoma City had enough time left to earn the win in regulation, but Paul’s acrobatic, reverse layup was off the mark and the contest headed to overtime.
Harden, who had been dogged all night by the defense of Lu Dort, fouled out with 4:07 left in the overtime session. Already playing without Russell Westbrook, the Rockets had no catalyst and just seemed to fold their tents.
Oklahoma City outscored Houston 15-3 in the overtime to run away with the game.
“This isn’t new for us,” Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari said. “Just an amazing team that is going to fight until the end.”
The Thunder had four players score more than 20 points in the game. Dennis Schröder came off the bench to lead the charge with 29 points on 10 of 23 shooting.
“We were just moving the ball, playing fast on offense. If we get a rebound or they score we just got to bring it up quickly,” Schröder said. “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.”
Paul added 26 points, six rebounds and five assists. Gilgeous-Alexander and Gallinari scored 23 and 20 points, respectively.
“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.”
But it was the play of Dort who seemed to exemplify the type of fight Oklahoma City wanted to put forth. Even though he only shot 3 of 10 from the field for 9 points, the defense he played the entire evening set the tone for Oklahoma City to keep coming back.
“Lu is trying to guard arguably one of the best offensive players to ever play the game. James is that tough to defend,” Paul said of his former Houston teammate. “With the step backs, drives, the ability to get to the free-throw line.”
Harden led all scorers with 38 points on 12 of 27 shooting. The NBA’s leading scorer was 3 of 13 from 3-point range and collected eight assists and seven boards before fouling out.
Former Oklahoma City Thunder member Jeff Green continues to show his resurgence may not be a fluke. He came off the bench for Houston to post 22 points and grab seven rebounds. He was one of only three Rockets to have a positive plus/minus in the game.
Oklahoma City and Houston will face off at 3 p.m. (CT) Monday in Game 4. With a chance to even the series the Thunder know they need to duplicate the same type of effort and fight from Saturday.
“We knew that we had to fight for 48 minutes,” Gallinari said. “This is the first game where we were able to do that for most of the game. It’s going to take this kind of effort to win against them.”
Story & Photo by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media