The Oklahoma City Thunder survived. That is the best way I can sum it up, as Oklahoma City outlasted the Houston Rockets 115-113, in game three. It came down to some late free throws by Westbrook, who split both trips, but it was just enough to hold the Thunder on for victory. Oklahoma City is now back in the series, with Houston leading 2-1 and game four on Sunday.
The Thunder stuck by their game plan as we saw in game two. It was the better play from Oklahoma City’s role players, especially Taj Gibson, and the controlled, dominant play from Russell Westbrook that led the way.
Thunder controlled the game from the opening tip, getting out to an early nine point lead four minutes into the game. It was eerily similar to game two, as Oklahoma City controlled the game for the most part, and Houston would go on minor runs to stay alive.
Houston had one last run late in the fourth quarter, even tying it up, but the Thunder did not fold like they did in game two.
Oklahoma City has a solid defense, but with the Rockets, you pretty much have to outscore them like the Thunder did tonight. Russell Westbrook didn’t have to do it all offensively, which was huge.
Taj Gibson was the biggest part of tonight’s win. Not only was he defending well out on the perimeter when he had to, he put up 20 points tonight, a high for him in a Thunder uniform. They force fed Gibson down low with Ryan Anderson guarding him, and he was also great in the pick and pop with Westbrook. Gibson played 29 minutes tonight, finally playing more than just 20 minutes. He definitely will stay around that 29-minute range for the rest of the series, after the way he played tonight.
“Taj is a very versatile defender,” Donovan said of Gibson, “He played very, very well tonight.”
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Gibson said about Harden “Anytime I can get my hands in there or anything, I do what I can.”
Andre Roberson was back in the double digits again in the scoring column, putting up 12 points, including two made three-pointers. He was also a menace on Harden all night, recording three blocks and two steals.
Oklahoma City was also able to lean on some nice offensive play from their bench. Kanter only played ten minutes, but was able to put up 10 points of his own. The Thunder had 35 bench points tonight, which is something they lacked in the first two games of the series.
Westbrook played one of his best games tonight, completely under control. “He was unbelievable the way he played tonight,” Billy Donovan said of Russell Westbrook.
Russell didn’t attempt one three until late in the fourth, that ended up in a huge offensive rebound by Steven Adams.
Westbrook got all his teammates involved, and knew when it was time to attack. “I had to do a better job of trusting my teammates for 48 minutes, and those guys hit big shots,” Russell said.
Westbrook finished with another triple double, putting up 32 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Westbrook recorded his seventh career triple-double of the playoffs, his second triple-double in a row.
Billy Donovan also deserves some credit, with the adjustments he continues to make.
“We’ve gotten better in every game in every area that we’ve needed too,” Donovan said about his team in game 3 when asked about the all around effort from every Thunder player.
Donovan also went on to mention how the team is very young, and getting more comfortable as the playoffs go on.
Though he was proud of his team’s win, Donovan had one concern. “It is a huge advantage for them in a lot of ways” Billy said of Houston’s skill to get to the free throw line.
Donovan made note of the free throw discrepancy, which was a little questionable tonight. He did it in a way where he said the Thunder need to improve, while also not necessarily questioning the officiating.
Oklahoma City shot just 23 free throws while Houston shot 33. Harden shot 18 free throws by himself, after getting 20 attempts in game two.
The Oklahoma City Thunder took advantages of their matchups tonight and essentially played within their own game. They avoided a three-point contest, got to the rim, and dominated the glass like they’re supposed to.
Oklahoma City will look to tie the series up on Sunday at Chesapeake Arena. Thunder take on the Rockets in game four at 2:30 central time.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Limit James Harden free throws: D
Harden shot a ton of free throws once again in game three. He finished 18 for 18 from the charity stripe, once again getting all the calls he wants. Though he baited Oklahoma City into most of them, there were a lot of questionable calls around the perimeter he otherwise probably should not have gotten.
Thunder big must dominate: A
Taj Gibson led the way, as he was huge in the win. He defended well, and was a great roll man for Westbrook. Steven Adams didn’t exactly stuff the stat sheet, be also was great defensively. He also had a huge tip-in to keep Oklahoma City alive really late.
Control the tempo: A
This was maybe the biggest key to the win, and to Westbrook’s credit. He knew when to push the ball, and when to run the offense. Oklahoma City made sure they got the matchups they wanted on the offensive end all night, and it paid off big time.We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Don't forget to subsribe on Youtube! Our Podcast is on iTunes and on Stitcher. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!