Paul George Buzzer-Beater Powers Thunder Past James Harden, Chris Paul, Rockets

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorApril 10, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 9: Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots three point basket aHouston Rockets on April 9, 2019 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, OK. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

Paul George knocked down a game-winning three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining as the Oklahoma City Thunder overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to defeat the Houston Rockets 112-111 on Tuesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

Rockets guard James Harden, who had a game-high 39 points and 10 rebounds, missed a three-pointer as time expired.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook notched his eighth triple-double in 13 games with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

George had 27 points, nine rebounds and four steals for the 48-33 Thunder, who moved into the Western Conference's No. 6 seed with one game remaining.

Chris Paul added 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the 53-29 Rockets, who fell to the Western Conference's No. 3 seed.

The Rockets can still move up to No. 2 if the 53-28 Denver Nuggets lose to the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Wednesday.

Rockets center Clint Capela added 18 points and 10 rebounds.

       

      

Houston-Golden State Western Conference Finals Rematch Still Seems Inevitable

Despite Tuesday's heartbreaking loss, no team is playing better basketball than the Rockets since the All-Star break.

Not only has Houston won 20 of its last 25 games, but the team is also No. 2 in offensive and defensive rating during that span, per NBA.com. The Rockets are also No. 1 in net rating.

Their six wins leading into Tuesday were by an average of 25.8 points. Two of their defeats were to the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences, the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks.

A third loss was a one-point overtime defeat on the road to the Memphis Grizzlies without the services of guard Eric Gordon, the Rockets' third-leading scorer. The fourth occurred Tuesday, and the fifth was a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first game after the All-Star break.

Despite Tuesday's loss, the Rockets will have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Houston is 31-10 at home and hasn't lost to any team at the Toyota Center other than the Warriors since mid-February.

If the Rockets can dodge the Warriors in the second round of the playoffs, they're likely to meet in the Western Conference Finals for the second straight year. Golden State has lost only one home playoff game since Kevin Durant joined the team in 2016, and it will have home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.

Both teams will face stiff competition in the playoffs, but Houston is the league's hottest team and Golden State is the NBA's best. They seem headed for a rematch, whether it's in the conference semifinals or conference finals.

               

OKC's Potential 1st-Round Matchups Spell Doom for Thunder

The Thunder are on a four-game win streak heading into their final regular-season contest Wednesday, but their long-term playoff outlook isn't bright.

Granted, the Thunder can win playoff games if Westbrook is getting triple-doubles and George is dominating on both ends like they both did Tuesday. And the Thunder aren't about to get swept out of the playoffs.

However, envisioning them going on the road and winning a playoff series is a tall order.

The Thunder will likely face the Rockets or Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, with dates against the Golden State Warriors possible but improbable based off the NBA's Western Conference playoff scenario sheet, via Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Oklahoma City faces a few problems against Denver.

First, the Nuggets have the Thunder's number. They swept Oklahoma City 4-0 in their season series and won those games by an average of 9.25 points.

Second, the Nuggets have a 33-7 home record, which is tied for the league's best. Beating the Nuggets in Denver is a tall order for any team, but especially so for a Thunder squad that has not had any luck against the West's current No. 2 seed this year.

Third, Denver's bench is in the NBA's top tier. Per NBA.com, they rank No. 5 in offensive rating and No. 7 in net rating. The reserves also outscored the Thunder's bench by an average of 5.8 points per game in their four contests.

Lastly, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has dominated Oklahoma City this season, averaging 24.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists. He's a tough matchup for any team, but his dominance versus the Thunder was most recently evident when he had 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 16 boards in a 115-105 road win on Mar. 29 .

As for Houston, the Thunder do hold a 3-1 regular-season series lead. But there are a few things to consider there as well.

Oklahoma City will start that series on the road, and Houston is a tough home team as evidenced by its 31-10 home record. The Thunder did beat the Rockets on the road once this year, but Houston center Clint Capela did not play in that 117-112 defeat.

Furthermore, the Rockets are a far different team than they were in the beginning of the season, when they lost 98-80 to the Thunder sans Westbrook. Of note, Carmelo Anthony played 20 minutes in that game, and he's no longer on the roster. Houston was also in the midst of an ugly slump that it snapped out in mid-December.

Houston is now one of the league's best offensive and defensive teams. The Thunder did a sensational job to erase a 15-point deficit late in the third quarter, but the Rockets also went through an offensive slump in which they went scoreless for nearly five minutes.

Oklahoma City can hang with any team in the league with Westbrook and George on the court. The supporting cast led by Steven Adams is impressive as well. But it's debatable as to whether the Thunder have enough offensive firepower to hang with the league's top scoring units.

Oklahoma City is No. 17 in offensive efficiency, per ESPN.com, whereas the other seven West playoff teams are in the top 12. That may spell doom in the playoffs against Denver or Houston, who are No. 9 and No. 2, respectively.

                            

What's Next?

The Rockets' next game will be in the postseason, which begins Saturday. Their opponent has not yet been determined.

The Thunder will close the regular season on the road Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks. They will clinch the sixth seed with a win.

Related

    Ranking NBA's Top Value Contracts Post-Free Agency

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Ranking NBA's Top Value Contracts Post-Free Agency

    Greg Swartz
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: NBA Investigating Early FA Deals

    League opened investigation after 'tense' owners meeting

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Report: NBA Investigating Early FA Deals

    League opened investigation after 'tense' owners meeting

    Mike Chiari
    via Bleacher Report

    In-Depth Look at Clippers' Pursuit of Kawhi, PG

    👀 LAC asked about Harden, Beal 😬 Magic's leaks sealed LAL's fate 🤔 Kawhi didn't recruit PG

    NBA logo
    NBA

    In-Depth Look at Clippers' Pursuit of Kawhi, PG

    👀 LAC asked about Harden, Beal 😬 Magic's leaks sealed LAL's fate 🤔 Kawhi didn't recruit PG

    Mike Chiari
    via Bleacher Report

    Can LeBron Win a Title Without a Superteam?

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Can LeBron Win a Title Without a Superteam?

    Dan Favale
    via Bleacher Report