This is the what we were waiting for this entire time in the Rockets-Thunder series. Game 1 was fine, and Game 2 gave us things to talk about, but Game 3 was thrills from front to end. Oklahoma City led most of Game 3 on Friday, but Houston kept eating into the deficit over and over again. With less than a minute left, James Harden tied the game. On the next possession, Steven Adams tipped in a Westbrook shot that ended up giving them the decisive advantage.
The game swayed back and forth between players shooting free throws, and a couple crucial Westbrook misses gave us all the drama we needed. It ended on a missed Harden three right here, which could have ended the game and the Thunder’s playoff hopes had it splashed in.
James Harden was *this* close pic.twitter.com/6h2fNNeWT3
— The Crossover (@TheCrossover) April 22, 2017
Instead, we head to Game 4 with the Rockets leading two games to one, and the two MVP candidates duking it out shot by shot.
It’s fitting that Adams hit what proved to be the game-winning shot, not Westbrook. In Game 2, right or wrong, Westbrook felt like he couldn’t trust his teammates to win the game. On Friday, Westbrook entered the fourth quarter with 17 shot attempts and only shot seven more times. It was a conservative, steady effort, with Westbrook consciously avoiding wild three-point attempts (he shot only one) while consistently working for his “cotton shot,” his name for that pull-up jumper around the rim. He finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists, but it all happened while his teammates shined.
The Thunder had tried to get Taj Gibson going in the opening two games, but they finally did it successfully on Friday. After he only had 13 points through the first two, Gibson managed 20 points in 29 minutes on 10-of-13 shooting. It was exactly the offensive boost needed from the trade deadline addition.
But it was the Thunder showing up combined with Harden’s brilliance running against them that turned this game into exactly what we were looking for. Harden scored 44 points on only 11-of-21 shooting, going to the line 18 times (making them all) with six rebounds and six assists. We’ve thrown around the word MVP so much, but there’s no word that describes him and Westbrook any better than that. It’s not fair someone has to take it, but only one can. (It looks like it’ll be Westbrook, according to a public counter of votes tallied so far.)
This series isn’t going to determine the MVP, but with two players like this going up against each other, it’s completely reasonable to ask for fireworks. Harden and Westbrook gave us that, and let’s get at least a couple more games of it before one of them has to go home.