James Harden, Rockets Dominate Chris Paul, Thunder in 114-80 Game 5 WinAugust 30, 2020
The Houston Rockets took a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder with a 114-80 win Saturday at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.
A low-scoring first half ended with the Rockets up 48-45, but Houston exploded in the third for 37 points and took an 85-63 lead into the fourth.
The Thunder couldn't mount a comeback, and both benches cleared early.
The Rockets welcomed back Russell Westbrook, who missed the first four playoff games with a quad injury. He played 23 minutes and posted seven points, seven assists and six rebounds.
The Thunder and Rockets were initially scheduled to play Game 5 on Wednesday before a player-guided protest against social injustice and systemic racism led to a three-day NBA postseason pause. Games resumed Saturday.
Thunder G Dennis Schroder: 19 points
Thunder PG Chris Paul: 16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists
Thunder C Steven Adams: 12 points, 14 rebounds
Rockets G James Harden: 31 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds
Rockets F Robert Covington: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals
Rockets G Russell Westbrook: 7 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds
Rockets Defense Shines in Dominant Win
One quick look at the box score showcases just how well the Rockets performed defensively.
The Thunder shot just 31.5 percent from the field and went 7-of-46 from three-point range. Oklahoma City also had seven more turnovers than assists.
Four Rockets had two or more steals, led by Robert Covington's three. They held Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to four points and Danilo Gallinari to one. Luguentz Dort went 3-of-16 from the field, and Oklahoma City scored 18 or fewer points in three of its four quarters.
Houston did an excellent job turning excellent defense into easy buckets on the other end, like when Eric Gordon intercepted a pass and took care of business himself:
Gordon did it again later in the quarter, this time stealing an inbound pass before going coast-to-coast:
He wasn't the only guard to get in on the action, as Harden blocked a shot in the third.
Harden, who scored 31 points in just 28 minutes, added a steal as well.
The Beard credited the team's defensive effort after the game, per Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:
"We did a better job of guarding the ball, guarding their [isolations] and things like that...We did a good job individually taking on the challenge and our weak-side defense was better as well."
The Rockets frankly couldn't have done any better on defense, and now they are one win away from returning to the Western Conference Semifinals for the fourth straight year.
Everything Falls Apart for Thunder in Ugly 3rd Quarter
Anything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Thunder in a third quarter where the Rockets more than doubled Oklahoma City's point total.
Bad passes and poor shooting marred the Thunder offense, and a dominant Rockets backcourt torched Oklahoma City on the other end.
To top it all off, Thunder guard Dennis Schroder was ejected from the game after an ugly incident with Rockets center P.J. Tucker, who was also removed from the contest.
Overall, the Rockets started the third on a 19-2 run and never looked back. It was a far cry from the theme for most of the rest of the series, which has largely seen competitive basketball and much better offense on the OKC side.
The Thunder won their previous two games by scores of 119-107 and 117-114. Granted, Westbrook wasn't around for either of those games because of his quad injury, but OKC's Game 5 performance is still concerning.
Namely, Westbrook was naturally a bit rusty in his return, shooting 3-of-13 from the field and committing four fouls in just 24 minutes. But it didn't matter as his teammates shined on both ends.
The Thunder can take away a few silver linings from this game.
For starters, it's highly unlikely Gilgeous-Alexander and Gallinari combine for just five points in Game 6.
In addition, the Thunder's defense was largely fine in the first half. Everything fell apart in the third, but a poor offensive effort did the defense no favors.
Oklahoma City has a few days to regroup to save its season, and a lot will depend on having a far cleaner offensive performance and figuring out how to clamp down on the Rockets backcourt, especially if Westbrook gets going.
In the end, though, the Thunder's ugly loss only counts as one in the series score, and they're alive to see another day.
The Thunder and Rockets will play Game 6 on Monday at 6:30 p.m. ET.