The Houston Rockets won a tense, back and forth game 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-102 to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals where they will face Lebron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers.  It was fitting that a series that came down to the final game also came down to the final play, and the final second of regulation.  It was physical back and forth series with no shortage of bad blood between the teams, with Chris Paul making several comments in the media about how his team was full of “cast-offs” and that in the clutch “some people are just built for this.”  Obviously he was alluding to his very unceremonious exit from the Houston Rockets the year before.

James Harden had an off night scoring 17 points on 4-15 shooting and 1-9 from three point range, but he did add 9 assists. Robert Covington and Eric Gordon led the Rockets balanced offensive attack with 21 points a piece, with Covington adding 10 rebounds for a double double. Westbrook had his best game since returning from injury scoring 20 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. The Thunder had 5 players score double figures, led by Lugentz Dort who had a huge night, scoring 30 points and going 6-12 from beyond the arc. Chris Paul tallied a triple double with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 19 as well on a night when it was anyone’s game to win all night.

      The Rockets were the more talented team almost without question, but OKC was able to hang around and make this series close because they didn’t beat themselves and until game seven they made what I call winning plays down the stretch. Timely defensive stops, big shots when the clock was running down, and most importantly not turning the ball over.  All that changed Wednesday night as the final minutes of the game all went the Rockets’ way.  A big block by James Harden followed by a bad decision by Lugentz Dort to try and throw the ball off of Harden’s leg that ultimately led to a turnover was crucial in Houston’s win. 

After Robert Covington made the first and missed the second free throw, Oklahoma City had the chance to in-bound it past half court. After a potentially disastrous play in which Harden committed an off the ball foul that triggered one free throw and the ball for Oklahoma City, the Thunder weren’t even able to get the ball in-bounds as they threw it away as time ran out. It was a wild ending that resembled the ending of game 6 where Russell Westbrook threw it away in the closing seconds to seal the win for the Thunder.

The Rockets move on to face the top seeded Los Angeles Lakers who have been waiting and resting for almost a week now. It will be interesting to see if the rest helps or hurts the Lakers. It is going to be an interesting matchup between two teams that are constructed about as differently as possible. The Lakers put out one the biggest lineups in the league and the Rockets are the definition of small ball. The Rockets will have to shoot better than they did if they want to take down the one seed. Harden especially will have to be more efficient in the second round, he averaged 29.7 ppg but shot just 31% from three. The Second round against the Lakers begins Friday in what is sure to be an exciting matchup between two squads with serious championship aspirations.

Photo Credit: Matthew Boyce/GCSN

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