Chris Paul, Thunder Rally to Win Game 3 vs. James Harden, Rockets 119-107 in OTAugust 23, 2020
The Oklahoma City Thunder came roaring back to life on Saturday with a 119-107 overtime victory against the Houston Rockets in Game 3 during the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Houston still leads the series 2-1, but the win is a big break for the Thunder as no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 series deficit.
After winning the regular season series 2-1, the Rockets' small-ball lineup stifled OKC in Games 1 and 2, allowing Houston to win by double digits in each outing. Saturday showed Chris Paul and company have found the necessary adjustment as he and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander combined for 49 points.
James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets:38 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds (fouled out for first time all season)
Jeff Green, PF, Houston Rockets: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 5-of-8 from three
Chris Paul, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder: 26 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder: 23 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists
Dennis Schroder, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder: 29 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists
Chris Paul Rises To Challenge
The Thunder had been waiting for Playoff Chris Paul to make his appearance this postseason.
On Saturday he showed up with his most efficient game in the opening round: 11-of-20 from the field, 4-of-6 from behind the arc and a plus-minus of plus-15.
For a player who shared a backcourt with Harden over the last two years, Paul doubled as both OKC’s most important playmaker and their on-court coach. That's why the guard had no problem calling himself out after two less than stellar performances in Games 1 and 2.
“I gotta be better,” Paul told reporters. “That's the tough thing, to know how hard we fought, guys worked hard. We put ourselves in position to win that game, and I gotta be better for us."
Two plays late in the fourth quarter showed how Paul elevated his game.
With less than a minute left and the Rockets up by three, Paul went step for step with Harden on the latter’s drive to the rim, forcing Harden to throw the ball to Danuel House Jr. in the corner. House couldn’t set himself and quickly stepped out of bounds. Oklahoma City would score a quick two-pointer on the next play.
Moments later, with 18 seconds remaining and the Rockets back up two, Paul drove from the top of the key, drew in Houston’s defense and found a wide open Gilgeous-Alexander for a go-ahead three-pointer.
Paul made himself a difference-maker on both ends of the floor in the exact manner the Thunder desperately need to have any chance moving forward.
Rockets Offense Goes Cold Late
Give the Rockets credit: Their game-plan on Saturday seemed like it would work incredibly well.
Then it didn't.
After spending the first half embarrassing the Thunder in the paint, Houston fell apart when Oklahoma City began to wall off any dribble drives down the lane. The second half of the Rockets' plan relied on knocking down three-pointers in order to space the floor so their drives remained successful.
That never happened, and it allowed the Thunder to come back from a 12-point deficit and avoid falling into a 3-0 series hole.
Houston scored 32 points in the paint in the first half after scoring 34 points there in total in Game 2. It would only muster another 14 points at the rim over the rest of the game. At the same time, the Rockets went just 15-of-50 from three with Harden and Eric Gordon combining to go 5-of-23.
Once those shots began missing, Oklahoma City officially had a chance to steal a game.
Thanks to Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander, Schroder and Danilo Gallinari each tallying 20 points or more, that quickly became a reality.
Game 4 between the Rockets and Thunder is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 24 at 4 p.m. ET on TNT.