Wednesday night was supposed to be the night the Oklahoma City Thunder finished off the pesky Houston Rockets to move on to the second round of the NBA playoffs. The time off waiting for the winner of the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers series would give the Thunder time to continue to reconstruct itself after losing Russell Westbrook for the season.
Wednesday was supposed to be a night when things went right for the Thunder. Instead, everything went horribly wrong.
Houston refused to allow the Thunder to end its season Wednesday night, knocking off Oklahoma City, 107-100, in front of a stunned, sold-out Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd—a score that wasn't as close as the final margin indicates.
The series now shifts to Houston for Game Six on Friday night at 8:30 p.m. CT. No team has ever come back to win a playoff series in the NBA playoffs after being down 3-0, but the Rockets are playing with the confidence of a team that truly believes they can be the first to accomplish that feat.
The Thunder defense couldn't stop a nosebleed for much of the game, with no play illustrating that better than the opening possession of the second half for Houston. The Rockets were already up 50-43, and Chandler Parsons took the ball, dribbled right down the lane with no opposition and slammed the ball home.
It was that kind of night for the Thunder. In fact, it got so bad the Thunder resorted to fouling Houston center Omer Asik on seven consecutive Houston possessions in the fourth quarter in order to get back in the game.
At the time, Oklahoma City trailed 93-83 with 5:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. The strategy worked for a bit, helping the Thunder draw to within 98-92 on a 3-pointer from Reggie Jackson with 4:16 remaining. However, the Thunder overused the strategy as Asik hit three of his next four free throws to push the lead back to nine.
Overall, Asik—a 56 percent free throw shooter during the regular season—hit 9-of-14 free throws in the fourth quarter, finishing 13-of-18 at the charity stripe and scored 21 points while grabbing 11 rebounds.
James Harden carved up the Oklahoma City defense for 31 points, leading six Rockets in double-figures. Harden was on fire from deep, knocking down his first seven 3-point attempts before finishing the game 7-of-9.
Kevin Durant scored a game-high 36 points on 11-of-23 shooting, but went just 1-for-8 from 3-point range and didn't score a single point in the fourth quarter. Jackson ended up with 20 points and Serge Ibaka added 14 points, but there wasn't nearly enough support around Durant to push the Thunder to a victory.
As bad as the defense was, the Oklahoma City offense wasn't any better. The Thunder shot just 41.9 percent from the field, including an abysmal 8-for-33 from 3-point range. Kevin Martin had a very forgettable night, going just 1-for-10 from the field and scoring a measly three points.
Early in the first quarter, it appeared the game would be modeled after the past three games—all close decided in the fourth quarter. The highlight early on came after Ibaka threw down a huge dunk to tie the game at 16. As Patrick Beverley—who was lustily booed every time he touched the ball—worked his way toward the Houston bench to call a timeout, Jackson stepped in and tried to steal the ball, exactly how Beverley did against Westbrook in Game Two. Jackson didn't touch Beverley, but Beverley responded by shoving Jackson, drawing a technical foul and sending the crowd into hysterics.
However, the first half slowly got out of hand for the Thunder, as Harden and Francisco Garcia combined to knock down all eight Houston 3-pointers in the first half, four apiece.
Houston led 50-43 at the break and eventually pushed its lead to 66-50 in the third quarter as Oklahoma City couldn't get any shots to fall while the Rockets continued to get pretty much anything they wanted.
A Durant 3-pointer cut the lead to 70-60 and seemed to ignite the crowd. Houston quickly countered with a six-point burst to push the lead back to 16 with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter. Another Thunder rally cut the lead to 78-71 on a Durant and-one with 1:55 remaining, but Houston rattled off nine points in the last two minutes to take a 12-point lead to the fourth quarter.