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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Rockets' defense delivers in 104-102 Game 7 win over OKC

Posted: September 3, 2020 -- 6:49 a.m. CT

ORLANDO, FL (ESPN Disney World of Sports Complex) -- The Houston Rockets defeated OKC with defense Wednesday night. The Rockets topped OKC 104-102 in a gritty Game 7 to advance to the second round of the 2020 NBA Western Conference Playoffs.

Houston led 103-102 when OKC's Luguentz Dort attempted a potential game-winning 3 point shot; however, James Harden leaped and blocked Dort's shot attempt. Dort tried saving the ball from out of bounds but was unsuccessful. Harden yelled with excitement after his great defensive play.

After what seemed like hours, the referees reviewed the replay monitor and determined 2.7 seconds remain on the game clock. Initially, 0.5 seconds were on the clock; then, 1.6 seconds; then, 2.7 seconds.

OKC was forced to foul twice before sending Robert Covington to the free throw line. Covington split the free throws with a 104-102 lead with just 1.4 seconds remaining in the game.

OKC called timeout to set up an inbounds play. Before passing the ball inbounds, Harden was called for an away from the ball foul for holding OKC guard Chris Paul. Because the foul was away from the ball, the call resulted in one free throw for OKC. OKC forward Danilo Gallinari, who was a perfect 29-for-29 from the line in the Orlando bubble, missed the free throw.

After Gallinari's missed foul shot, the Thunder maintained possession of the ball. OKC called their last timeout of the game to set up another play. After the timeout, Russell Westbrook, was guarding Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the inbounds passer on the play. Westbrook moved away from Gilgeous-Alexander and towards Gallinari to keep Gallinari from receiving the pass. Gilgeous-Alexander was out of options.

No timeout. No teammate open to pass the ball. Therefore, Gilgeous-Alexander threw the ball to OKC big man Steven Adams. The pass was deflected by Houston's P.J. Tucker. OKC did not get a shot attempt. Houston won the game.

After the game, Westbrook said of his defense on the play: "I knew where the ball was going. I tried to muck it (the inbounds pass) up." Muck it up indeed.

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The final three plus minutes were hectic and bizarre. A grand total of two baskets were made in the last 3:39 of the game. Harden scored a driving layup to put the Rockets ahead 101-99 with 3:39 on the clock. Harden was 3 for 14 prior to that shot. He really, really struggled shooting the ball Wednesday night.

Then, each team missed 4 field goals. Westbrook missed two layups. Tucker missed a three-point shot and Covington missed a putback layup attempt. OKC guard Dennis Schröder missed two layups plus a 13-foot jump shot and Gilgeous-Alexander missed a 9-foot shot.

Gilgeous-Alexander ended OKC's drought with a three-point basket for a 102-101 OKC lead with 1:42 remaining.

P.J. Tucker ended Houston's field goal drought with a 12-foot floater in the paint. Yes, P.J. Tucker scored a floater. Tucker, who ranks at the top of the league in corner three-point shots made, opted not to shoot a three and got closer to the basket and made a floater in the paint.

Tucker's basket was Houston's last field goal of the game. His basket came with 1:25 on the game clock.

OKC missed three field goals in the final 85 seconds. Schröder missed a three-point shot to cap his shooting performance in the game an icy for 5 for 17 from the floor. Chris Paul missed an 8-foot pull jumper and, of course, Dort's go-ahead three-point shot attempt was blocked by Harden.

"I came up with a big block to win the game," Harden said after the game.

The game seemed to be a Bizarro World episode. OKC rookie Lu Dort scored a career-high 30 points. Dort is a defensive specialist. At times Wednesday night, Dort was OKC's best option on offense.

Harden clanged shots throughout the game. But, Robert Covington and Eric Gordon picked up the slack. Covington and Gordon each scored 21 points. The two of the team combined to make 11 of 20 three-point shot attempts. Covington added 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocked shots. Westbrook scored 20 points on 9 for 20 field goals.

The game was definitely not pretty to watch; but, it was definitely competitive and hard fought. Neither team led by more than 8 points. The game featured 15 lead changes and 13 ties.

"Just the will to win is what's important," Mike D'Antoni said after the game. "It's never going to be pretty. But, it's a great win for us for sure."

Game 1 versus the LA Lakers will be Friday, September 4. Tip is set for 8 p.m. on ESPN.

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