HOUSTON – Pressure playing without it’s all-star point guard on the road in a playoff game? NO! Not for the Oklahoma City Thunder, which launched to a 26 point first-half lead only to watch Houston come all the way back and take the lead as late as 45-seconds from the finish…before the Thunder took advantage of crucial James Harden turnovers very late and clutch free throw shooting for a 104-101 win Saturday night and a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 playoff series.
At first, it looked easy. And the Thunder got some revenge on the very first possession when center Kendrick Perkins set a hard pick on Houston guard Patrick Beverley near half court. Beverley smashed into Perkins, who was called for the foul, and a message was sent by OKC’s “enforcer” to Beverley, the Rockets guard who helped end Russell Westbrook’s season in game #2 with that collision during a time-out which injured Westbrook’s right knee. Shortly after Houston took a 7-1 lead, the Thunder went on a 15-2 run and didn’t look back until late in the contest. The high water mark was a 48-22 lead late in the second quarter as the stunned sellout crowd inside the Toyota Center was rendered silent.
Houston seized momentum when OKC couldn’t buy a basket in a poor third period. In total, the Thunder hit just 5-25 shots while Houston outscored OKC 27-14 to cut the Thunder lead to four heading into the final quarter. After tying the game at 91, the contest went back-and-forth the rest of the way before the former Thunder star Harden uncharacteristically began missing crucial free throws and turning the ball over. The final mistake was a bad pass right to Derek Fisher of the Thunder with :29 to play. Fisher and second-year point guard Reggie Jackson buried clutch foul shots from that point on…and the Thunder moved to within a single victory of eliminating Houston and advancing to the second round.
All-Star Kevin Durant tied a career playoff high with 41 points and 14 rebounds, Serge Ibaka also had a “double-double” with 17 points and 11 boards, Jackson was rock-solid with 14 points in his first start in place of the injured Westbrook and Kevin Martin added 12 points, but the former Rocket did *not* score in the final half. The Thunder can wrap up the series with a win Monday night in game #4 which tips off at 8:30pm Oklahoma time and on national TV.
Bob Barry Jr. has a postgame report including comments from Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, Durant, Ibaka and James Harden.