Prior to tonight’s contest, the Oklahoma City Thunder had established themselves as the most resilient team in the NBA this season. When trailing entering the fourth quarter, the Thunder have recorded 17 comeback victories in the regular season — one of which came in a 112-107 win over the Houston Rockets in January.
Seven months later, the Rockets made sure not to duplicate that same mistake. On Tuesday, Houston opened the Western Conference Quarterfinals with a 123-108 victory over Oklahoma City, inside The Arena in Orlando. With the win, the Rockets hold a 1-0 series lead over the Thunder.
The Rockets held a six-point lead late in the first quarter when Eric Gordon made a substitution for James Harden. Instead of squandering the lead, Gordon led the Rockets on an 18-7 run with Harden on the bench. By the end of the first half, the Rockets held a 68-52 lead over the Thunder. Gordon put on his best Russell Westbrook interpretation, scoring 16 of his 21 points during the first half.
“Eric is one of the most skilled guys we have in this league...He is finally healthy. Finally getting his swag back. And that is scary for the opposing team’s defense because they have to guard that.” — Harden
James Harden led the Rockets in scoring with 37 points, shooting 54.5% from the field, 46.1% from behind the arc — but his help went beyond the productivity from Gordon.
The Rockets received an additional 42 bench points with Jeff Green leading the way with 22. In addition to his scoring, Green put together a well-rounded performance with 6 rebounds and 4 assists in the win. In his playoff debut, Ben McLemore added in 14 points, connecting on 4-7 from three-point range.
“I’ve been knowing Jeff since I was rookie, so I know what he is capable of. He is confident. He is making plays off the dribble and guarding players one through five. He is just doing the things he has been doing his entire career.” — Harden
A 10-point deficit midway through the third quarter was the closest the Thunder came to a possible Game 1 comeback. Houston’s defense made it a miserable night for the Thunder — in particular on Chris Paul.
Prior to his 9 points in the fourth quarter, the Rockets held their former teammate to 11 points on 3-for-9 shooting from the field, 1-for-5 from behind the arc. He finished the game with 20 points. Danilo Gallinari led the way for OKC with 29 points on the night.
“It’s tough — they play like that for a reason. We keep talking about it, but Eric Gordon is like a wildcard for them because of his ability to shoot deep and drive. We have to figure out what we are going to take away. To let the other guys get going is tough because everyone starts to feel good.” — Chris Paul
Up next, the Rockets will attempt to take a commanding 2-0 series lead against the Thunder on Thursday, Tip-off is slated for 2:30 p.m. CT.