HOUSTON – Game 5 was the series and it was the season. It was the end of both, but also an end for the Thunder that came with everything Thunder fans have seen during this brilliant, fiery and wild 2016-17 campaign.
The Thunder lost to the Houston Rockets 105-99 after holding an eight-point lead at one point, and a seven-point lead in the third quarter, but couldn’t close against a veteran-laden Rockets squad that made just enough plays and paraded to the free throw line to end the series 4-1.
“I was really proud of our guys tonight. We really competed and battled for the entire 48 minutes,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “We got off to a pretty good start and certainly dug ourselves a hole coming out of halftime to start the third quarter. Our guys battled and fought their way back in.”
Donovan’s club held Houston to just 16 points in the first quarter, and just 16.2 percent shooting from three-point range in the game, but got beat up during the two three-minute stretches that Russell Westbrook sat, then surrendered a pair of runs to Houston, one 12-3 burst late in the second quarter and another 7-1 spurt late in the fourth quarter.
In the latter burst the Rockets went to the free throw line on four straight possessions and that broke the game open from a three-point Thunder deficit to a nine-point edge for Houston with 3:32 to go. Westbrook helped the Thunder chip the lead down to just four, but it was too little too late, despite a valiant effort.
“We obviously didn’t make all the shots we needed to but we got the shots we wanted to and put ourselves in position to win the basketball game,” Westbrook noted.
“Like Houston has done, the difference for us in the series if you go back to it statistically, has been the free throw line,” Donovan said. “Where we had gotten hurt throughout the series was on the backboard with second chance points and at the free throw line. That was the biggest difference.”
As Donovan mentioned, tonight’s game, and the series, all came down to a pair of key factors: the free throw line and long rebounds. In Game 1 it was most pronounced, and while the Thunder controlled the rebounding better in Games 2 and 3, Houston got after the glass with 11 second chance points in the first half alone. The Rockets launched 37 three-pointers so there were plenty of long rebounds and loose balls to be gathered up all night.
“They got to a lot of 50-50 balls. They shot a lot of threes and wild shots,” forward Taj Gibson explained. “It was a scrappy game and a scrappy series.”
“They obviously made more plays and less mistakes on their end. All the boys did the best they could for the situation that they had,” center Steven Adams added. “It’s the same things why we didn’t win the games and why we did win the one game. They started really crashing in, especially with their guards. Rotations mixed us up and all that.”
The Thunder struggled to score most of the game, shooting just 38.5 percent as a group, but the Thunder’s defense was solid, holding Houston to 40.5 percent, just 16.2 percent shooting from three-point range and only three fast break points. Andre Roberson was again fantastic, limiting James Harden to an 8-for-25 shooting night, but the Rockets guard racked up 17 free throw attempts, part of 39 for Houston on the night.
On the other end, Donovan’s crew had five players in double figures scoring, including Jerami Grant and Alex Abrines off the bench. It was Westbrook whose dynamic play again helped the Thunder stay in the game all night long. He personally helped fuel much of the Thunder’s 27-9 explosion in the third quarter that turned an 11-point deficit into a seven-point lead. On the night, he scored 47 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished nine assists in his 42 minutes of play.
Just. Watch. Russ.
A post shared by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on Apr 25, 2017 at 7:04pm PDT
Most of all, he continued to display the type of leadership his team has gotten and needed from him all year.
“(Westbrook) was really just encouraging,” Donovan said of his point guard. “He’s demanding and challenging and wants guys to bring it and rise up. I get that, but his leadership and what he did for our group was tremendous.”
“I consider it a good season, from myself to every guy in that locker room did a great job all year long,” Westbrook said. “People counted us out at the start of the season. The guys deserve credit for coming in and making sure we were ready, and the coaches and down the line, everybody and our fans, for sticking with us.”
Game 5 Thunder Highlights:
By the Numbers
16.2 – Shooting percentage from the three-point line that the Thunder held the Rockets to on the night
33-for-39 – Free throw numbers for the Rockets in the game
47 – Points for Russell Westbrook on the night, in addition to grabbing 11 rebounds and handing out nine assists
The Last Word
“Our team rallied around each other. That’s the nature of our team. Our team changed. We lost guys and gained guys and some guys got contracts, some guys didn’t. We came together and it brought us closer.” – point guard Russell Westbrook