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Tramel: Lu Dort gives OKC Thunder hope against James Harden, Rockets

A question came to mind after the Thunder beat the Rockets 119-107 in overtime Saturday night, saving, for now, a wild and wonderful NBA season for Oklahoma City.

What does the name “Luguentz” mean? Not the kind of question I thought I’d be asking myself when the season tipped off last October to not-so-great expectations.

So I did what all the curious do in the 21st century. Went to the world wide web.

And there, on popular-babynames.com, was my (non) answer. 

“Sorry, we do not have a definition yet for the name Luguentz…”

But popular-babynames.com did offer this nugget: Between 1980 and 2018, in selected nations, there was exactly one birth with a recorded name of Luguentz. A boy born in Quebec.

That’s our man, born in Montreal in 1999. So until Luguentz Dort’s mother reveals the genesis of the name selection, we’ll have to wing it. In Oklahoma, Dort’s given name will mean, Hope against Harden.

Dort’s defense against Rocket superstar James Harden is giving the Thunder a chance in its Western Conference playoff series. Harden is productive but frustrated, and that’s all you ask against The Beard.

ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Doris Burke have talked incessantly about Dort. They’ve talked more about Dort than they have Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder combined.

Dort’s ability to stay in front of Harden and entice him to launch 3-point shots is the best (only?) tactic that can lead to success against Houston’s sui generis offense.

“We know Lu and what he does,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “That’s what we expect every night.”

Dort has quick feet and a strong torso. He’s built like the Pentagon. Thick and low to the ground. Built like a fullback. If Dort was built like a tight end, he’d be LeBron James, except for the ball skills, of course.

Dort throws up enough bricks to plaster the Pentagon -- he was 0-of-6 from 3-point range in Game 3 Saturday night and is 2-of-14 in the series -- but nobody cares. Play defense like Dort plays it, and he’d be valuable if he never crossed halfcourt.

The night’s defining play might have been late second quarter, when Harden drove to the basket with his cunning mixture of brawn and ball skills, Dort gave no ground, Harden flipped the ball at the basket and Dort blocked it right back off of Harden’s head and out of bounds.

Dort’s value is soaring so much, Billy Donovan is readjusting his finishing lineup of Gallinari, Paul, SGA, Schroder and Steven Adams. OKC played the last two minutes of the first half without Dort, and Harden drilled the Thunder for a quick nine points.

After that, Donovan was much more careful with his Dort substitution patterns.

All told, Harden scored 11 points while Dort was on the bench, with only one missed shot. Harden’s final stats were gaudy (they always are gaudy): 38 points, but he missed 10 of his 13 3-point shots. Harden shooting with Dort on the bench: 5-of-6. Harden shooting with Dort on the court: 7-of-21. And while Harden did get 15 foul shots, most came courtesy of other Thunders, not Dort.

Dort finished with just three fouls, which will no doubt chap Harden, especially considering the way the game ended.

Fifty-three seconds into overtime, Harden fouled out for the first time all season. The sixth foul came by fouling Dort, who had snatched an offensive rebound and was muscling to the basket.

There is irony. There is double irony. Then there is Harden fouling out of a critical game because he hacked Dort.

Without Harden, the Rockets were neutered. They went scoreless the first four minutes of overtime, by which time the game safely was in Thunder hands and the series was back to being competitive.

Harden likely still will get the last laugh. He’s 1-1 in playoff series against the franchise that traded him eight years ago, and Houston still leads this series 2-1. 

But the Thunder always makes things rough on its expatriate.

Harden is averaging 30.0 points per game against OKC in the postseason. But they are a hard-earned 30. Thabo Sefolosha in 2013 and Andre Roberson in 2017 and now Dort in 2020 make things quite difficult for Harden.

In half of those 14 playoff meetings, Harden has shot below 40 percent from the field. His 3-point percentage in those games is 29 percent.

It’s a noble lineage. Sefolosha brought perimeter savvy and toughness to a team brimming with young colts void of a defensive mindset. He stood up to Kobe Bryant and Harden and even Chris Paul in the playoffs.

Roberson was a defensive terror before that awful patellar tendon injury 31 months ago. In the final two games of the OKC-Houston series in 2017, Harden was a ghastly 13-of-41 shooting, including 2-of-20 from 3-point range.

But now comes Dort, an undrafted rookie who is manna from Heaven who gives the Thunder a chance against the Rockets and the name Luguentz a chance to spread.

Related Photos
Oklahoma City Thunder's Nerlens Noel is helped up by teammate Luguentz Dort after falling with Houston Rockets' James Harden during the second quarter in Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)

Oklahoma City Thunder's Nerlens Noel is helped up by teammate Luguentz Dort after falling with Houston Rockets' James Harden during the second quarter in Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-22f295cf86dc04c1767609807400675b.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Nerlens Noel is helped up by teammate Luguentz Dort after falling with Houston Rockets' James Harden during the second quarter in Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Nerlens Noel is helped up by teammate Luguentz Dort after falling with Houston Rockets' James Harden during the second quarter in Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Nerlens Noel is helped up by teammate Luguentz Dort after falling with Houston Rockets' James Harden during the second quarter in Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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