Barring falling into an insurmountable 3-0 deficit in the first round of the playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder found a working formula to defeat the Houston Rockets in overtime, 119-107. Here are five facts about today’s game and pay attention to the last one…it’s imperative if the Thunder want to win the series.
Harden doesn’t know what to do when Luguentz Dort is guarding him.
Dort has been an absolute surprise, but he’s perhaps OKC’s most important player in this series, which sounds crazy. How does an undrafted 20-year-old rookie play such a vital role on a playoff team? Through his defense. He’s tasked with guarding one of the most gifted scorers of this generation, and he’s doing a masterful job doing it. Harden shot 12-of-27 from the field and finished with 38 points, but he was only 3-of-14 while guarded by Dort.
CP3 said he had to do more and do better, and he did.
After CP3’s worst performance of the season and potentially his worst performance of his career on Thursday, posting a -36 plus/minus in OKC’s loss, he stepped up in the best way on Saturday. Paul did what he’s done for the majority of his career: controlled the narrative, controlled the offense, didn’t force anything but also didn’t hold anything back. After a subpar first quarter, he bounced back and got the Thunder back to playing the basketball they’ve played all season long. Paul finished Game 3 with 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists on 11-20 shooting.
Free throw shooting was a problem.
The Thunder shot 67.6 percent from the free-throw line and that almost cost OKC the game. They missed a total of 11, so just imagine if they would have hit half of those, and hovered right around their season average from the free-throw line. This game wouldn’t have gone into overtime.
Houston’s bench didn’t outplay OKC’s for once.
Surprise, surprise. OKC’s bench outscored Houston’s. They outscored Houston 35-26 and that’s largely due to Dennis Schroder showing up as OKC’s leading scorer with 29 points. Yes, Dennis Schroder accounted for 29 of OKC’s 35 points so the rest of the bench needs to do more.
It’s time to sit Adams and Noel, and beat Houston at its own game.
We all thought that Houston was crazy for going to a small ball lineup at the trade deadline, but it’s working. It’s working mostly because the Rockets have great shooters, but it can work for OKC as well.
The truth is, OKC has been trying to fight power with power against Houston anyway. It’s been ineffective because how can you do that with an underutilized big man on the floor? The Thunder have essentially been playing with three of four players on offense, especially considering Dort’s lack of offensive fortitude.
The fix for everything is small-ball. And I’m not talking about the small ball that Houston’s playing…because the Thunder are 27th in made threes this season. I’m talking small ball that makes OKC quicker but still allows them to take advantage of their size. They’d still be starting two guys that are taller than Houston’s tallest starter. Putting Darius Bazley at the center position, and Danilo Gallinari at the forward position poses a new threat to Houston. We saw a small sample of that in the overtime period where OKC outscored Houston 15-3.
Billy Donovan didn’t plan to go small, but Steven Adams suffered a knee contusion in the fourth quarter that forced him to go that route — and it worked. With Adams now not healthy and potentially sidelined for Game 4 on Monday, it may be a good idea for the Thunder to make this adjustment permanent for this series.