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Thunder get a passing grade in Game 3 win against the Rockets

Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) looks to get by Houston's Patrick Beverley (2) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017.  Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) looks to get by Houston's Patrick Beverley (2) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

The Thunder squeaked by the Rockets 115-113 to avoid a 3-0 hole in this first-round playoff series. The grades reflect lots of positives but on-going issues that must be shored up moving forward.

Taj Gibson: A

Oklahoma City's Taj Gibson (22) looks to pass around Houston's Ryan Anderson (3) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017.  Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Taj Gibson (22) looks to pass around Houston's Ryan Anderson (3) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

As minutes for the other Thunder starters increased in the first two games of this series, Gibson’s playing time remained flat. Friday, he made a case for that to change moving forward. In the first seven minutes of the game, he scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting. He hit jumpers. He dunked in transition. He drove to the rim. All told, he finished with 20 points on 10-of-13 shooting in 29 minutes.

Guarding Harden: B

Oklahoma City's Andre Roberson (21) defends against Houston's James Harden (13) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017.  Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Andre Roberson (21) defends against Houston's James Harden (13) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Yes, the Rocket superstar scored 44 points. Sure, he shot 18 free throws – just one less than all of the Thunder -- but even at that, the Thunder played solid defense on Harden much of the game. That starts with Andre Roberson, and even though there were times Harden scored on him, Roberson made pretty much everything tough. Harden was 11 of 21, and while he had six assists, he also had seven turnovers.

Victor Oladipo: B

Oklahoma City's Victor Oladipo (5) shoots over Houston's Eric Gordon (10) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017.  Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Victor Oladipo (5) shoots over Houston's Eric Gordon (10) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

The Thunder shooting guard managed only five field goals in the first two games of this series. Friday, he had four in the first half alone. He finished 5 of 8 for 12 points, six rebounds and two assists. He was more assertive, more assured. He shot the ball like he meant it.

Bench: C

Oklahoma City's Norris Cole (30) shoots during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017.  Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Norris Cole (30) shoots during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

The Thunder bench was a combined -6 in plus-minus, which isn’t great, but compared to Game 2 when the bench finished a combined minus-64, it was darn near wonderful. Thunder coach Billy Donovan went with offense, playing Norris Cole over Samaj Christon and Doug McDermott and Alex Abrines over Kyle Singler, and those three combined for 19 points on 6 of 12 shooting. But still, the Thunder was vastly outplayed by the Rocket reserves, who combined for 38 points.

Environment: A

Oklahoma City's Victor Oladipo (5) dunks in front of Houston's Ryan Anderson (3) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017.  Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Victor Oladipo (5) dunks in front of Houston's Ryan Anderson (3) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

Thunder fans still know how to do playoff basketball. The Peake was rocking before tipoff – so loud that yelling was necessary to be heard by someone next to you – and the Thunder’s hot start only elevated the energy. I’m sure there are arenas with a similar vibe in the playoff, but you won’t find one better.

Hands: B

Oklahoma City's Andre Roberson (21) defends against Houston's James Harden (13) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017.  Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Andre Roberson (21) defends against Houston's James Harden (13) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

The Thunder did an excellent job early getting hands in the passing lanes. Houston had six turnovers in first 10 minutes of the game, including five by James Harden, and all six of them were steals by the Thunder. OKC wasn’t as aggressive as the game went on, though, coming up with only two more steals.

Related Photos
Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) looks to get by Houston's Patrick Beverley (2) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017.  Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) looks to get by Houston's Patrick Beverley (2) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Nate...

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Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) looks to get by Houston's Patrick Beverley (2) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-d3493279ca099c36002df8df64d8dcb5.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Victor Oladipo (5) dunks in front of Houston's Ryan Anderson (3) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Victor Oladipo (5) dunks in front of Houston's Ryan Anderson (3) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Victor Oladipo (5) dunks in front of Houston's Ryan Anderson (3) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6e8c0ee846f3393d1321538967b3e48d.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Andre Roberson (21) defends against Houston's James Harden (13) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Andre Roberson (21) defends against Houston's James Harden (13) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. 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Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6b61669b4c503bd95ac417c166091ef4.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Victor Oladipo (5) shoots over Houston's Eric Gordon (10) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Victor Oladipo (5) shoots over Houston's Eric Gordon (10) during Game 3 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, April 21, 2017. 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Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

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