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OKC Thunder: Lu Dort, despite crushing turnover, shines in Game 7 loss to Rockets

The Rockets dared Luguentz Dort to shoot. It was their strategy all series. 

Miss after miss, the Thunder rookie’s confidence had to crack as the Rockets forced the shot they desired most — a Dort 3-pointer. 

Until Game 7, when Dort’s bricks became buckets. 

Dort, who was shooting 7-of-38 (18%) from 3-point range in the series heading into Wednesday night, fired away with no respect for the past. The undrafted guard attempted a game-high 21 shots while sharing the court with a few notable scorers — Chris Paul, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. 

Dort outshot them all, and somehow outscored them all. 

“I live to play games like that,” Dort said. “I live to step up like that.” 

He finished with 30 points — the most ever by a Thunder rookie in a playoff game, much less a Game 7. He splashed the net on six of his 12 3-point attempts. 

But that 12th attempt ultimately decided the game, a 104-102 Rockets win, the series and the Thunder’s extraordinary season. On that final attempt, the Rockets didn’t dare let Dort shoot. 

James Harden, who tried to shake free from Dort all series, got payback with defense of his own. The Rockets star left his man, Steven Adams, to sprint to the left wing and block Dort’s 3-point attempt with four seconds left and the Thunder trailing 103-102. 

“I didn’t think he was that close, but he was,” Dort said. “He got it. It felt good. I was confident enough to take that shot.” 

Harden denied the possible series-winner, but the play wasn’t over. The ball spun straight up, and Dort timed his jump just right to recollect his miss. Dort’s first instinct was to spike the ball off Harden and out of bounds, but this time, it was Harden who timed his jump right. 

The ball went through Harden’s legs, and the Rockets were awarded possession. 

“Offensively I played like s---,” Harden said after the game. “Defensively I had to make a play, and I tried to close out to him.” 

Harden howled and flexed his arms while Dort stared stone-faced. Meanwhile, Chris Paul was furiously trying to call a timeout milliseconds before, which wasn’t granted. 

The Thunder had one final chance, inbounding the ball with a second left, but that too resulted in a turnover. The Thunder committed 22 of them Wednesday night, which led to 28 Rockets points. 

The Rockets advanced to the Western Conference semifinals where they’ll face the Lakers. The Thunder will exit the bubble after a 56-day stay. 

Dort made a 3-pointer with 4:38 left to tie the game 99-99, but the Thunder shot 1-of-9 after that and scored six points in the final seven minutes. 

“That’s on me,” Paul said. “We was pushing the pace really good, then we just got stagnant.” 

“I thought we missed a lot of layups around the basket to be honest with you,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, while also noting the high turnover count. 

But the Rockets similarly struggled in the fourth quarter, leaving an opening for OKC when Russell Westbrook missed a layup with 26 seconds left. 

Down by one point, the Thunder settled for the final shot. Paul passed to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who got trapped and threw a one-handed pass to Dort. 

“I thought in that situation, with the floor being broken, we could’ve certainly maybe got something a little bit better,” Donovan said. “But obviously Lu played an incredible game, and part of the reason why we were that close is because of what he did offensively tonight.” 

Dort did more than score. He limited Harden to 17 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Harden was 1-of-9 from 3-point range. 

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni joked that Dort gave him “about three heart attacks.” 

Harden heaped praise on Dort, both former Arizona State Sun Devils, after the game. 

“He doesn’t care about anything but playing hard,” Harden said. “As a young guy coming into this league, that’s all you can ask for. Learning how to play, and learning defensive schemes and offensive schemes and the total package of being an NBA player is gonna come. But he has the right mindset of just playing hard and playing balls to the wall, and he don’t care what anybody thinks. He’s gonna have a great career.” 

Last summer, Dort went undrafted. He signed a two-way contract with the Thunder, which was only converted into a standard deal after the season suspension. He became a reliable starter, a tenacious defender, but he remained a spotty shooter. 

“I didn’t listen to the outside stuff,” Dort said. “My teammates, my coach really believed. Dennis (Schroder) and Chris (Paul) was telling me to ‘Shoot the ball, shoot the ball’ … I know it was a big game.” 

That trust, even on the final shot, is what stuck with Dort after an unforgettable Game 7. 

“Me coming from Montreal and being here with all these guys, the way we played, it didn’t end up our way, but it was big," said Dort, fighting through tears. "I’m grateful for that.” 

Related Photos
Sep 2, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (5) tries to bounce the ball off of Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) but misses during the second half of game seven of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Houston gained possession of the ball on the play. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 2, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (5) tries to bounce the ball off of Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) but misses during the second half of game seven of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex....

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1de77994cd2ff487a44d115a3525f03c.jpg" alt="Photo - Sep 2, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (5) tries to bounce the ball off of Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) but misses during the second half of game seven of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Houston gained possession of the ball on the play. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports" title="Sep 2, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (5) tries to bounce the ball off of Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) but misses during the second half of game seven of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Houston gained possession of the ball on the play. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports"><figcaption>Sep 2, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (5) tries to bounce the ball off of Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) but misses during the second half of game seven of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Houston gained possession of the ball on the play. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-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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