After a heart-stopping, nail-biting and well… simply stressful game seven, The Houston Rockets woke up this morning still in contention for the Larry O’Brien trophy after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder, 104-102.
Heading into Game 7, there were plenty of reasons to feel a bit nervous. Not only had OKC come back from down 2-0 and then 3-2, but they looked incredibly motivated while doing so. Chris Paul, who has been great all year, seemed to have a bit of extra juice in this series against the team that traded him.
While Paul had payback on his mind and secured a triple double with 19 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds in the process, Thunder rookie Luguentz Dort made sure that the NBA world knew his name, scoring 30 points on 6-12 shooting from three-point range.
In the end, none of it was enough to beat Houston. On the biggest shot of the game, James Harden spoiled Dort’s coming out party by racing over and blocking a potential go-ahead three pointer from Dort who was wide open thanks to a broken play.
Funny, the ‘Harden-Stopper’ was stopped by Harden.
Truthfully, when I wrote that it’s up to James Harden to finish off the Thunder, I truly believed that he would. I just did not expect it to be on the defensive end. Despite struggling to score the ball, Harden’s impact was evident. Outside of 17 points on 4-15 shooting, The Beard dished out 9 assists, pulled down 5 rebounds and came away with 2 steals and 3 blocks, including the massive one on Dort.
Although twitter attacked Russell Westbrook for his late game misses, it is hard for me to imagine the Rockets winning this game without him. In the third quarter when Houston needed a scoring boost, Westbrook provided it and pitched in a 10-point period. Russ finished the game with 20 points and 9 boards.
In a series where Eric Gordon struggled to find his footing, he ran over OKC in the final game. Not only did he have 21 points points, but he did it on 6/11 shooting which included 5 makes from beyond the arc.
Lastly, Robert Covington, welcome to Houston. In Covington’s biggest game since becoming a Rocket earlier this season, he poured in 21 points on 7-15 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks.
Fourth Quarter Breakdown
At the end of the third quarter, Houston held a 85-80 lead and I thought to myself, this final quarter is about to be a shoot out. I couldn't have been more wrong.
After Chris Paul sank two free throws to tie the game at 96-96 with 7:11 left, a drought ensued. From that point on, the teams combined to shoot 5/26 from the field, scoring only 14 points throughout the rest of the game.
When Harden flew over to Dort and blocked his go-ahead shot attempt, he proceed to hurdle the ball as Dort collected the rebound attempted to throw it off to James out-of-bounds so that OKC could regain possession. Harden yelled on the sideline and the Rockets began to celebrate, but then madness ensued.
After officials met and put some time back on the clock, Covington was sent to the free throw line to try and push the lead out to three, but he split the free throws so Houston led 104-102 and OKC had about two seconds to try and get game winning basket. OKC could not get anyone open and called a timeout, but of course it was not that simple.
A split second before the Thunder had called a timeout, James Harden was whistled for a phantom Scott Foster special foul on Chris Paul. If you foul a player in that situation, they get a free throw and the ball. The Thunder elected to have Danilo Gallinari take the free-throw and with a chance to cut the lead to one, and the basketball gods finally thumbed their nose at Foster, and Gallinari missed it.
On the following inbounds play, OKC’s Shai Gilgeous Alexander panicked and forced the ball to Steven Adams who was out on the perimeter, but the Rockets broke it up and the buzzer sounded, signaling that the game was over and a fictional clock struck midnight on Oklahoma City’s Cinderella story.
The most puzzling thing to me was OKC’s decision have Gallinari shoot the free-throw instead of Chris Paul, but I certainly am not complaining.
Next up: LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers
I believe that the Rockets can beat anybody, especially when they have a healthy Russell Westbrook. While the Lakers’ size will be a problem, the Rockets’ ability to space a floor and pick apart a defense had been an issue for L.A in the regular season.
Houston is 2-1 in the regular season against L.A and have won the last two matchups. In the first of the two latest games, Russell Westbrook lit up the Lakers at Staples Center for 41 points and Houston won 121-111. In the most recent game, which was in the bubble, James Harden eclipsed 39 points in a game that was missing both Russell Westbrook and LeBron James.
If Houston is going to knock off the Lakers, Brodie and The Beard must play like the MVP’s that they are. While their MVP’s are driving and kicking, the Rockets’ shooters must stay hot and punish the Lakers for helping off of them in an attempt to stop the isolations.
I predict that the Rockets will play in another Game 7 this round and once again move to the next round.
Check back at TDS tomorrow for the full staff series predictions!