OKC’s Luguentz Dort joined Kobe Bryant and LeBron James as the only player, 21 and younger, to score 25 points or more in Game 7 of the playoff series. The rookie forward had himself a night during Wednesday’s matchup against the Rockets, dropping 30 points, and once again having a huge impact on the defensive side of the floor, holding James Harden to .267 shooting from the floor. However, when the final buzzer had sounded, it was Harden who had the last laugh.
The Rockets beat the Thunder 104-102 and will face LeBron James and the LA Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals, starting on Friday. Houston had five players scoring in double figures, with no standout scoring performances. Eric Gordon and Robert Covington had 21, Westbrook added 20, and The Beard finished the game with 17 points.
“Offensively, I played like s—. Excuse my language. I couldn’t hit a shot. I turned the ball over. Just doing everything that’s not supposed to happen, but I just kept sticking with it. My teammates gave me confidence throughout the course of the game, and defensively I had to make a play.”James Harden, ESPN
With 4.8 seconds left on the clock, Harden did make a defensive play, both series and legacy saving one. James, who was guarding Steven Adams, sprinted to close out on Dort, who was wide open on the left wing, ready to drain his seventh three of the game. Harden blocked Dort’s potential go-ahead three, enduring another off night in an elimination game, and making us forget about the fact he shot 4-for-15 from the floor.
“It’s cool to get 40 or 50 points or shoot the ball extremely well. Obviously, we all want to do that. But for it to pay off when it counts on the defensive end, it shows that I’ve been engaged and locked in. For it to show in a clutch moment, it means a lot.”James Harden, ESPN
Chris Paul led the Thunder with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists, becoming the oldest player in NBA history to record a Game 7 triple-double. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 19 points of his own, as OKC couldn’t compensate for the lack of contribution from Danilo Gallinari, who only had 4 points on 2-for-6 shooting and failed to hit a free-throw to bring the Thunder within one with 1.1 seconds left on the clock.
“It’s tough man. We fought hard all year. Obviously, a lot of people doubted us, but we didn’t doubt ourselves. We didn’t give a damn about anybody’s predictions going into any series and any game, we expected to win. And that’s the way we played all season long. So, that’s a tough one.”Chris Paul, Bleacher Report
Hats off to the Thunder for the season they’ve had. With the moves they made last summer, organizational teardown seemed inevitable. But the group of young guys, combined with some veterans, with CP3 as their leader, took the whole league by surprise. They were one shot away from upsetting the Rockets, but Harden’s defensive efforts propelled Houston into an epic second-round matchup against the Lakers.
So, I guess it’s time for OKC to embark on the rebuilding route. Or is it?