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Harden’s 44 not enough, drop Game 3 to OKC 115-113

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Rockets series lead cut in half.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Close, but no cigar.

The Rockets dropped a tough one in Oklahoma City, losing Game 3 to the Thunder, 115-113.

James Harden had a game-high 44 points, but was unable to hit two go-ahead threes down the stretch. Harden finished the game shooting 11-21 from the field and making all 18 of his free throws, but Russell Westbrook’s triple-double (32-13-11) lead the Thunder to victory.

Tonight’s game was about the stars, but we also saw a resurgence in both team’s supporting casts. The Rockets had several role players step up including Lou Williams with 22 points and Ryan Anderson with 18. The Thunder’s role players received a lot of criticism for underperforming in the first two games, but bounced back tonight with 20 points from Taj Gibson, and double figures from Andre Roberson, Victor Oladipo, and Enes Kanter.

The Rockets started this game off very similarly to Game 2 as they were very lethargic. An 11-2 run opened the scoring for the Thunder, and OKC only trailed the game for 12 seconds early in the third quarter. The Rockets were playing catch-up all night, and did not seem to have much of a chance in the game until less than a minute in the fourth quarter, when James Harden nailed a game-tying three.

On the ensuing possession, Steven Adams tipped in a Russell Westbrook missed three to give OKC the lead for good, but James Harden and the Rockets took the ball down by just two points.

Despite only being down by a deuce, Harden had the ball in his hands and decided to go for the lead with a three. It was an open look, but it was a good few feet behind the three-point arc. It was a very questionable decision, but the Rockets looked cooked when Russell Westbrook was granted two free throws after Patrick Beverley fouled out with his sixth foul.

The Rockets looked done, but were far from it when Westbrook missed his first. His second make made it a three-point game, and Westbrook intentionally fouled Harden, who made both of his free throws. Then Russell is fouled by Eric Gordon.

Make on the first. Miss on the second.

James has the ball in his hands, eight seconds, about to prove his doubters wrong in front of his old home crowd, about to tie the game with a drive down court, yet he stops at the three-point line. Again. And same result, another miss on a highly-contested shot defended by Andre Roberson. Thunder win Game 3.

This is the dilemma that will have James Harden (and many Rockets fans) up at night. Should Harden have gone for the win or the tie in that situation?

I can certainly see both sides of this argument, but I think what James should do is figure out ways to not make the game so close. The Rockets lost this game tonight because they dug themselves in a hole too deep. A fifteen-point deficit in the first half proved too be too much for the Rockets to recover from.

If the Rockets can get off to quicker starts and be able to shut down the Thunder’s supporting cast, Houston can win Game 4 on Sunday. If there is any consolation for this loss, it’s that the Thunder had to shoot 55 percent from the field and 47 percent from three. Those numbers are difficult to duplicate, but the Houston defense needs to improve. If the Rockets can up their defense and get off to a stronger start on Sunday, they’ll head back home with a 3-1 lead.

Game 4 is Sunday, where the Thunder look to even the series at home and the Rockets look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Tipoff is at 2:30 CT on ABC and ROOT SPORTS.