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OKC Thunder: Guard trio picks up pace in Game 3 win against Rockets

Chris Paul dribbled at the top of the arc, waiting for the right time to attack. 

He made his move with 19 seconds left, darting past James Harden before firing a two-handed jump pass over Rockets forward Jeff Green to Thunder teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was waiting patiently in the corner. 

“Once I got that matchup, I knew help was gonna have to come over from somewhere,” Paul said. “The pass was easy. Shai had the hard part of knocking down the shot.” 

Gilgeous-Alexander swished the 3-pointer to give the Thunder a one-point lead with 14 seconds left. 

“Hat’s off to Chris,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Helluva pass. I just wanted to be ready to shoot, and shoot it with confidence.” 

After inconsistent play from Oklahoma City’s star guards in the first two games of the series, Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander connected on a shot that kept the Thunder in contention of coming back from an 0-2 hole. 

A Houston free throw forced overtime, but the Thunder dominated the extra five minutes to beat the Rockets 119-107 Saturday night in Game 3. 

Paul scored 26 points, Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 23 and Dennis Schroder — the third member of the Thunder’s vaunted guard trio — led the team with 29 points. 

“Run, run, run,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan yelled in the first half. 

It’s the instruction he’s been stressing all series. 

“I thought Dennis set a great tone for that early in the game,” Donovan said. 

The Thunder’s stagnant offense from Game 1 and Game 2 finally picked up the pace in a must-win Game 3, albeit after a slow 2-of-14 start. 

“I think we did a better job,” Paul said. “Sometimes you’re talking about things during the game, and things can get heated here and there, but I think our communication is great. Those guys kept talking about kicking the ball ahead, kicking the ball ahead and playing downhill. I think we did a better job of that.” 

Donovan agreed. 

“We’ve got a very cerebral, smart team,” Donovan said, “and a lot of times, they, with their mind, can manipulate the game. But when you’ve got a team that’s switching everything you’re doing, sometimes you’ve gotta be in good spacing and attack. Just really trying to play a little bit faster and make quicker decisions … We’ve gotta play that way.” 

Harden, who led the Rockets with 38 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, fouled out one minute into overtime. Paul took over, draining a pair of deep 3-pointers to ice the game. He finished 4-of-6 from 3-point range. 

“Aside from the shots I think I was a lot better defensively,” Paul said. 

The Thunder went small to match the Rockets in overtime. Danilo Gallinari played center instead of Steven Adams as the Thunder outscored the Rockets 15-3. 

“I think they kind of forced us to down the stretch with the way they play and their style of basketball,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of OKC’s version of small ball. 

In addition to scoring, Gilgeous-Alexander, Paul and Schroder all tallied at least five rebounds and five assists. 

“I think we’re starting to figure out how to play against their defense,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “They’re the only team in the NBA that plays like that. That’s something that we have to get used to, but I think we figured it out.” 

Related Photos
Aug 22, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder passes against Robert Covington #33 and Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets in the first half in game three of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 22, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder passes against Robert Covington #33 and Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets in the first half in game three of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit:...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6d4ba576dfc484d88d2d4ef102c82c4f.jpg" alt="Photo - Aug 22, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder passes against Robert Covington #33 and Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets in the first half in game three of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports" title="Aug 22, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder passes against Robert Covington #33 and Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets in the first half in game three of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports"><figcaption>Aug 22, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder passes against Robert Covington #33 and Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets in the first half in game three of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports</figcaption></figure>
Joe Mussatto

Joe Mussatto joined The Oklahoman in August 2018 to cover OU football, men’s basketball and softball. He previously covered University of Kentucky football and basketball for SEC Country. Mussatto is from Oklahoma City and lives in Norman. Read more ›

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