Oklahoma City entered today’s game looking to tie up the series, and from the get go the Thunder looked like they were going to pull it off.
Oklahoma City started off the game strong, leading by double digits before Houston closed the gap with the Thunder leading 26-22 at the end of the quarter. The second period was a lot closer, with Oklahoma City boosting their lead to as many as seven, but Houston kept it close as they split the quarter. The Thunder entered halftime with a 58-54 lead.
Oklahoma City came out firing on all cylinders in the second half as they rattled off a 12-2 run in the first four minutes of the 3rd quarter, but the Rockets promptly answered with a 12-0 run of their own over the next three minutes. The teams split the quarter again, and Oklahoma City entered the final period on top 77-73. This is when the game truly started to turn.
With Westbrook on the bench, the Rockets went on a 9-2 run to take an 82-79 lead before Russ came back on the floor with 9:42 left in the game. The Thunder and the Rockets traded blows down the stretch before the game took an unfortunate turn into one of the weirdest endings in a playoff game in a while. With a lead, Houston began a “Hack-a-Roberson” strategy, while Oklahoma City continued to make plays anyway and keep the game close. With just 6 seconds left, and Houston leading by two, James Harden shoved Thunder guard Alex Abrines to get open for an inbounds pass, which Russell Westbrook almost stole, but Rockets guard Eric Gordon recovered it, leaving Westbrook with no other option but to foul. Houston finished the game on top 113-109, which gives them a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
Westbrook Makes History, Struggles to Close
For the third consecutive postseason game, Russell Westbrook finished with a 30-point triple-double, making him the first player in NBA history to do so. He went into the locker room after the 2nd quarter with a rare first-half triple-double scoring 17 points while shooting 5/11 (45.5%) from the field and 7/7 (100%) from the free throw line to go along with 10 assists and 10 rebounds.
The second half was a different story, however, as Westbrook shot just 5/17 (29.4%) from the field, including 3/8 (37.5%) from three, and 5/6 (83.3%) from the free throw line while adding 4 assists and 4 rebounds. Russ has proved time and time again that he is capable of greatness, but he was hit or miss down the stretch today, and that played a big role in the Thunder failing to come away with the home win. Westbrook finished the game with 35 points on 10/28 (35.7%) from the field, 3/8 (35.7%) from three, and 12/13 (92.3%) from the free throw line to go along with 14 assists, 14 rebounds, 3 steals, and 5 unfortunate turnovers.
Role Players Offer Some Support
For the second consecutive game, the Thunder saw role players step up and play in a big way. Tonight’s pleasant surprise for Oklahoma City was Steven Adams, who scored a career-playoff high 18 points on 8/10 (80%) shots from the floor and 2/5 (40%) from the free throw line. He also grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked 3 shots.
Andre Roberson continued his impressive playoff run by scoring 13 points on 5/9 (55.6%) shooting from the floor, including 1/2 (50%) from three, but he struggled from the free throw line, making only 2/12 (16.7%) of his attempts. He played incredible defense, though, holding James Harden to just 16 points while tallying an impressive 5 blocks and 2 steals.
After struggling through the first three games of the series, Victor Oladipo finally showed up with 15 points, making 7/10 (70%) from the floor, to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. He also played some solid defense recording 2 steals and 2 blocks.
Lastly, Jerami Grant brought a lot of momentum to the game with his 10 points scored by making all 5 of his field goal attempts, all of which were slam dunks. Grant played just 14 minutes, which begs the question of whether or not he should be getting more play time.
Despite the Thunder having guys step up and contribute in an effective manner, they were unable to hold on to a lead as Russell Westbrook sat late in the 3rd quarter and early in the 4th quarter. Oklahoma City will stand no chance in Houston in Game 5 if the bench cannot find a way to maintain a lead while Westbrook rests.
Houston, We Have a Problem
Oklahoma City heads back on the road to Houston to take on the Rockets in a must-win Game 5 on Tuesday. A 3-1 lead in the series for Houston all but shuts the door for the Thunder to move on to the second round, but basketball fans know all too well that no 3-1 series lead is safe after last year’s NBA Playoffs. Game 5 will tip off at 7 PM CT, and it will be televised on TNT and FSOK. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.