ORLANDO, Florida- Houston, we have a problem. And the problem is Houston.
The Oklahoma City Thunder came up empty in Game 2 falling to the Houston Rockets 111-98 behind a dynamite offensive performance from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, A fiery and aggressive first-half performance and the return of Lu Dort.
The problem? None of this was enough to stop James Harden and the Rockets from running away with the victory.
“Our guys battled and competed at a really high level,” Billy Donovan said following his team’s loss. “We really have to have the stamina to maintain that level of play. Our pace could have been better, and that led to turnovers that put us back on our heels.”
Although the Thunder found themselves in a more competitive mindset to start the game, the Rockets took off on scoring runs twice putting the Thunder in tough situations they were unable to dig themselves out of in the end.
Chris Paul said the biggest difference for the Thunder entering this matchup and getting off to a good start had some to do with better shot selection but had everything to do with communication and studying mistakes made on Tuesday.
“We communicated a lot better coming into this game and had a plan,” Paul said. “There’s no moral victories, though. Our guys fought really hard, but we put ourselves in a bad position and let this one get away from us.”
The Thunder got the offense flowing early on generating good ball movement and efficient shot selection, and guys like Gilgeous-Alexander picked up the heat on offense knocking down 9 points in the first 9 minutes of action. SGA finished with only 9 total points in Game 1.
Gilgeous-Alexander shot 9-17 from the floor and 10-11 from the free throw line for 31 points leading all scorers in the game.
OKC’s defense, with the return of Dort to take on the challenge of guarding James Harden, clamped down on the perimeter and forced Houston into uncomfortable situations where the Rockets trailed 59-53 going into halftime.
“It was amazing,” Chris Paul said of Dort’s defensive performance. “We tried to make it as tough as possible on James [Harden]. It was great to have him back.”
With Dort out of Tuesday’s matchup with a knee sprain, Billy Donovan made the announcement that he would be available just hours before tipoff marking this as Dort’s NBA Playoffs debut.
Dort finished with 8 points on 3-10 shooting going 2-8 from 3-point range.
Russell Westbrook remained out of the lineup for the Rockets as he continues to rehab his quad strain, but James Harden was joined by strong offensive performances from Danuel House Jr., Eric Gordon and Jeff Green.
Harden would finish with 21 points, while House ended with 19 and Gordon and Green picking up 15 a piece.
The Thunder were well-positioned to take a victory in today’s game, but letting up on defense during key moments of the game is what hurt OKC in the end. Poor decision making allowed the Rockets to go on a 17-0 run in the second half, and Houston never looked back.
“We didn’t get the end result we wanted, but I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We have to put it together for a full 48 minutes.”
The Thunder dig themselves an 0-2 start to the playoffs and are now in a must-win situation approaching Saturday’s matchup. Falling by double digits (13) to the Rockets when Harden doesn’t even have a dominant shooting night puts the Thunder in a dire situation with only two options.
Win or go home.
The Thunder and the Rockets are back in action for Game 3 on Saturday, Aug. 22, at 5 p.m. CST.