Chris Paul leads the Thunder past Russell Westbrook and the Rockets to force Game 7 | Launderer report

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Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t ready to leave the bubble just yet.

OKC beat the Houston Rockets 104-100 in Monday’s Game 6 of their first-round playoff series at Walt Disney World Resort and forced a Game 7 in the process. Chris Paul led the way with an impressive performance and, at least for now, prevented the Thunder from losing in the first round for a fourth consecutive season.

Paul was the veteran leader down the home stretch and passed Robert Covington for a foul before calmly hitting two free throws 13.1 seconds to go to give his team the advantage for good. Russell Westbrook threw it on the next possession for anything but end it.

As for the Rockets, a strong performance from James Harden was not enough to secure a second-round berth for the fourth year in a row.

Notable player statistics

  • Chris Paul, G, OKC: 28 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST, 3 STL
  • Danilo Gallinari, F, OKC: 25 PTS, 5 REB, 2 STL
  • James Harden, G, HOU: 32 PTS, 8 REB, 7 AST, 5 TO
  • Robert Covington, F, HOU: 18 PTS, 5 REB, 5 STL, 3 BLK
  • Russell Westbrook, G, HOU: 17 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST, 7 TO

Thunder Show Fight which defined their season

It was fair to wonder if the Thunder were embracing a full rebuild when they traded Westbrook this offseason. Yes, the deal got them Paul, but there were a lot of discussion assuming they would turn around and trade the veteran in a later deal.

After all, Paul is a veteran who has never won a title and could find himself in an immediate win-win situation, while OKC could have scored draft picks or young assets to facilitate a rebuild.

Instead, the team chose to keep Paul and ultimately exceeded all reasonable expectations. Young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took a significant step forward, and Danilo Gallinari served as a scoring threat with guards finding him as defenders collapsed on their penetration.

Monday was a microcosm of the season, as it was reasonable to assume Houston would easily send the Thunder after a resounding win in Game 5 and with Westbrook back in the lineup.

It seemed to be the case when Houston took a nine-point lead in the third quarter, but OKC fought and took the lead in defensive specialist Luguentz Dort’s fourth consecutive treble.

Gallinari found his deep shot, Gilgeous-Alexander grabbed defenders with his explosiveness before facilitating and Paul was in control with a range of floats, well-timed practices and quick passes.

The veteran leader also outshined Harden and Westbrook on the home stretch, drilling three straight to tie the game less than three minutes to go, stripping Westbrook of important possession down the home stretch and making free throws from clutch.

As a result, the Thunder is still fighting.

Westbrook still working the way home, come up short

All eyes were on Westbrook entering the game from Houston’s perspective as it was his second game after a quad injury.

He was far from close to himself in Game 5 with seven points on 3 of 13 shots, although the Rockets had sufficient firepower with Harden in the lead. Monday could have been spent with Westbrook taking another step in the right direction before he and Harden took on LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the next round.

It looked like this would be the case when Harden made up for his lack of outside touchdown by attacking the basket and creating looks for himself and the others before the supporting cast led a 10-0 run at the fourth.

Covington mixed in a three and a backhand, PJ Tucker hit a three and Eric Gordon attacked the rim during the push that put the Rockets in position to win.

However, Paul stripped Westbrook on a key possession and the Rockets guard pulled a mid-range draw in the final 90 seconds. He also threw the ball out of bounds after Paul’s winning free throws, while Harden watched without a chance to tie the game or take the lead.

It was a massive failure on the part of the nine-time All-Star and a reminder that Harden should be the one with the ball in his hands at the time of the crisis until he is fully healthy.

And after?

Decisive Game 7 is Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.



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