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Tramel: Thunder report card gets high marks for defense, Dort & backup bigs

The Thunder beat the Rockets 104-100 Monday night to even their Western Conference playoff series at 3-3. The Thunder has won all three close games in the series, so it’s got a razor-thin margin, but OKC has thrived on the edge all season. 

Defense: A. The Thunder’s defense not only was solid, it was constantly solid. Houston’s scores by quarter were 25, 26, 24, 25. OKC continued to limit the whistles; the Rockets had just 12 foul shots. Dennis Schroder gave Lu Dort some relief on dogging James Harden, who finished with 32 points on 11-of-22 shooting, seven assists and five of Houston’s 22 turnovers. The Thunder can live with those numbers. And the Rockets scored on just one of their final 10 possessions in the final 4:49.  

Dort’s offense: B. Dort shook off his disastrous Game 5 and contributed quite a bit in Game 6, with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Dort helped erase a Houston lead in the third quarter, with back-to-back 3-pointers. Give Billy Donovan credit. He didn’t give Dort a red light, but Donovan also incorporated some other options. Dort, who went 0-of-9 from 3-point range in Game 5, drove more than he has all season. Twice in the first two minutes, Dort drove and zipped the ball to Danilo Gallinari for an open shot. Gallinari missed both, but Dort clearly was going to make the Rockets account for him after they ignored him Saturday night. Dort did have five turnovers in Game 6, but at least he was active.

A Team: B. The Thunder lineup of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Gallinari, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder was the NBA’s best five-man unit in the regular season. It has not been overly effective in this series. And in 9:23 together in Game 6, that unit managed just 22 points, the same amount it allowed. But Donovan went with his A team down the stretch, and it responded. Right after Schroder replaced Dort with 4:55 remaining, Harden hit a 3-point shot that gave Houston a 97-92 lead. But the Thunder outscored the Rockets 10-3 to take control. Surprisingly, defense was better than offense with that five-man unit.

Backup big men: A. Both Darius Bazley and Nerlens Noel gave the Thunder valuable minutes. Bazley, in particular, was excellent, with eight points, nine rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes. Noel played 16½ minutes, during which OKC outscored Houston by six points. Donovan in the second quarter experimented with a huge lineup that included Adams, Gallinari and Bazley. In 2½ minutes together, that lineup outscored Houston 8-5.

Ball security: C. Again, the Thunder was sloppy with the ball, committing 19 turnovers that led to 21 Houston points. Dort’s five and Adams four padded the total. But the Thunder committed just three fourth-quarter turnovers, and only one of those came in the final 5:48, a Schroder charge. Paul had no turnovers in 39:47 of playing time.

Trade: A. Sam Presti has caught enough flak over the years for the 2012 Harden trade to Houston. Give him a little credit for the Paul-Westbrook trade from last summer. Westbrook had as many turnovers (seven) as rebounds (four) and assists (three) combined, including two giveaways in the final 85 seconds. Meanwhile, Paul didn’t commit a turnover and had 22 second-half points.

Related Photos
Oklahoma City Thunder's Darius Bazley (7) watches as Nerlens Noel attempts to stop Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) on a shot attempt during the second half of an NBA first-round playoff basketball game, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Oklahoma City Thunder's Darius Bazley (7) watches as Nerlens Noel attempts to stop Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) on a shot attempt during the second half of an NBA first-round playoff basketball game, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c0787e9c69f083e379cf4935f6522caa.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Darius Bazley (7) watches as Nerlens Noel attempts to stop Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) on a shot attempt during the second half of an NBA first-round playoff basketball game, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Darius Bazley (7) watches as Nerlens Noel attempts to stop Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) on a shot attempt during the second half of an NBA first-round playoff basketball game, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Darius Bazley (7) watches as Nerlens Noel attempts to stop Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) on a shot attempt during the second half of an NBA first-round playoff basketball game, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)</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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