The Houston Rockets entered Game 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a near-must-win situation. Following two games that didn’t go their way, they needed a victory to avoid an 0-3 start, as no NBA team has ever come back to win four straight elimination games.
Unfortunately for Houston, that’s where it now finds itself following a 104-101 loss Saturday night.
It didn’t take long for the Thunder to get a shot in on Patrick Beverly—Beverly collided with Russell Westbrook on the play that ended Westbrook’s season. Kendrick Perkins committed a hard illegal screen on OKC’s first possession, but that didn’t stop Houston from playing with good energy.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, the Thunder don’t typically stay out-energized for long.
By the end of the first quarter, Oklahoma City had taken a 39-19 lead. It was obvious that nobody had an answer for Kevin Durant, as the small forward finished the period with 17 points and four rebounds.
To begin the second, Durant nailed a three-pointer to officially give him more points than the Rockets. Houston’s offense looked just as stagnant as its defense, as it struggled to make long shots, with or without duress.
By halftime, the Thunder had pulled ahead 66-49, and it wasn’t until midway through the third that it looked as if we might have a game to watch down the stretch. The Rockets put together an 8-2 run, and would eventually pull within single digits for the first time since four-and-a-half minutes to go in the first quarter.
Heading into the final 12 minutes, Houston had managed to pull itself within four points. Its frantic pace and willingness to launch from deep were its downfall early, but those are the same characteristics that helped it get back in it.
An improved offense helped the Rockets storm back, but it was the effort on defense that made the real difference. They managed to hold the same Thunder offense that nearly scored 40 in the first to just 5-of-25 shooting in the third, and they held Durant to just four points after he dropped 25 in the first half.
With three minutes and 45 seconds to play, Houston jumped ahead for the first time since its 9-6 lead early. But luckily for OKC, Durant proved to be the star of the show. He tied a playoff career high with 41 points, and he helped the team escape despite the Rockets’ near comeback.