The Oklahoma City Thunder essentially salvaged their season with an all-important victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 3. The Thunder could have found themselves in the deepest of holes had they fallen short on Saturday.
But some clutch buckets from Oklahoma City and poor execution on the part of the Rockets helped the Thunder climb from a five-point deficit late in the fourth quarter and force five more minutes of basketball in overtime. The Thunder then dominated the extra session with James Harden one minute into OT.
Saturday’s contest was much closer than the first two contests of the series, where the Rockets blew out the Thunder in both occasions. Oklahoma City had struggled through Games 1 and 2. It certainly looked as if Houston would dominate the series many had predicted to be one of the more competitive first round match-ups in these 2020 playoffs.
Nonetheless, the Thunder clearly made their adjustments in Game 3, which had all the markings of a signature OKC win. They stayed with the game, executed well down the stretch and closed out in the clutch as they’ve done so for many times this entire season.
With that, here are three takeaways from the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season-saving win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday.
The Thunder need their three guards to play well.
Game 3 marked the first time in the series where all of their three-headed guard monster played well in the same game.
In Game 1, Chris Paul had a solid near triple-double effort with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. However, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder struggled from the field, combining for just 15 points on a paltry 5-of-20 shooting.
In Game 2, it was the veteran Paul that came out struggling, as he registered just 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting. Schroder was also basically a non-factor with 13 points. Only SGA got it going with 31 points as Oklahoma City fell to a 2-0 series deficit.
Game 3, however, saw all three of them pour in at least 20 points. Prior to Game 3, CP3 promised to be better and he delivered with 26 points, including a clutch showing in the overtime period. Schroder top-scored for OKC with 29 points off the bench, while Gilgeous-Alexander dropped 23 points, including a clutch corner triple off an assist from Paul in regulation that help force OT.
It’s no secret that these three need to bring their A-game for the Thunder to have a shot of winning this series.
Luguentz Dort should be a key player for the rest of the series.
Luguentz Dort has been designated to be the James Harden stopper for Oklahoma City in this series. In Game 3, he showed a pretty splendid job at it.
Harden still got his monster numbers, leading the Rockets with 38 points. However, all those points didn’t come easy with Dort bothering him all night long. He missed 10 of his 13 three-pointers and went 12-of-27 from the field overall. With Dort as his primary defender, Harden shot just 3-of-14 from the field.
This now marks the second game that Dort has made an impact on Harden defensively. Dort didn’t suit up in Game 1 because of a right knee sprain. In Game 2, he forced the three-time scoring champ to just 5-of-16 shooting en route to 21 points.
The Canadian-born guard has the foot speed and lateral quickness to keep in step with the former league MVP. He also has the build to keep Harden from attacking the basket with easy layups. More importantly, he has great defensive instincts to make life difficult for The Beard on the offensive end.
If you didn’t know Luguentz Dort before, perhaps you will now after this series.
Oklahoma City has realized that it needs to pick up the pace.
Head coach Billy Donovan instructed his team to run, and so they did. This wasn’t the case through the first two games of the series, with Oklahoma City playing stagnant basketball that led to two blowout losses.
Game 3, however, looked much different. The Thunder ran in transition. On their half-court sets, they made quicker decisions with the basketball, and attacked the cup to either get shots at the cup or generate open looks on the perimeter. Likewise, this helped them generate better offense with Houston’s switch everything defensive scheme.
This is the exact recipe that got them an open look for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s clutch corner triple in regulation.
Speaking of three-pointers, Game 3 also saw Oklahoma City shooting the most three-pointers they’ve shot in the series so far. Of course, we know that Houston is going to launch exclusively from long range as much as they can. The Thunder will never take that away from the Rockets’ game, but they should at least keep up with them and not give them that big of an advantage from beyond the arc.