Game Three, unlike the first two, took place in the hallowed hollow that is Chesapeake Arena. Some things happened that were better: Russell Westbrook turned in his triple-double without monopolizing all the shots, the Thunder actually hit three-pointers on a regular basis (nine of 19), and OKC proved more adept at serving up assists (24-10). But some things were distressingly familiar: failure to close quarters strongly, long periods where the Rockets seemed to do all the scoring, and entirely too many fouls against James Harden, especially when the Beard is putting up a trey. An example of the latter, inside the two-minute mark, left the score at 110-108. It was tied at 111 when Harden didn’t exactly travel. Well, he did, but he slid across the floor, and he quickly called a timeout. With 9.5 left, Westbrook was going for a slam, but Patrick Beverley got in his way. It was Beverley’s sixth foul, so that was sort of gratifying, but Westbrook dropped one of the two freebies. With 8.8 left, Westbrook fouled Harden to make sure he couldn’t hit a trey. Harden duly sank two free throws — he made all 18 he tried — and it was 114-113 Thunder. Half a second later, Westbrook drew another foul and somehow nailed only one of the charities. The last Rocket volley missed, and the final was OKC 115, Houston 113. Suddenly it’s a 2-1 series, and Game Four looms on Sunday afternoon.
The Thunder couldn’t do much about Harden, who racked up 44 points seemingly without effort, although the Beard ended up with seven turnovers versus six assists. They did, however, make life miserable for Beverley, which might have been more emotionally satisfying: while the B did reel in seven rebounds, the only shot he made all night was a free throw. Still, they have no answer for Lou Williams. Westbrook was 32-13-11, though he did manage to miss three of his last six free throws. More delightful: more Taj Gibson, who rolled up 20 on 10-13 shooting.
Game Five will be Tuesday night in the 713. If nothing else, by then we’ll know if there’s a Game Six.