Rockets Thunder Basketball

Houston Rockets' James Harden, left, drives against Oklahoma City Thunder's Luguentz Dort, right, during the second quarter of 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)

NORMAN — Lu Dort is relentless.

He’s impossible, too.

You couldn’t make him up.

Nobody would believe it.

Did you know that moments before Game 1 tipped, on TNT, Charles Barkley up and said James Harden was the best one-on-one player in NBA history?

He might be right. 

Michael?

LeBron?

Magic?

Bird?

They’re all better players, but they can’t do what Harden does.

 

Only here’s the thing:

Harden can’t do what Harden does if Lu Dort’s guarding him.

Oklahoma City claimed Saturday’s night’s overtime-required Game 3 119-107 for a whole lot of reasons.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit the biggest shot of his life, a corner 3 that looked like it might win it in regulation, yet instead became the shot that got the Thunder to overtime. 

P.J. Tucker’s inbound turnover with 24.4 seconds remaining may have been cosmic good fortune, but it doesn’t happen without the uber-intense pressure of Dennis Schroder.

Chris Paul finally found his moment, too, knocking down a pair of overtime 3-pointers, daggers that finally put Houston down.

Still, it’s about Dort.

Did you know he’s from Canada? 

Fun fact.

Did you know he went undrafted? 

Like, Darius Bazeley’s been terrific in this, his rookie season, after OKC selected him No. 23 in the 2019 draft. 

Yet, 37 more players got taken in that same draft, none of them were Lu Dort and Saturday that’s who made life so hard on maybe the best one-on-one player in NBA history.

You probably watched the game. On ESPN or Fox Sports Oklahoma, you heard the announcers blown away by Dort’s defense. 

On the ESPN broadcast, Doris Burke was imploring Oklahoma City not to offer Dort any help because he was doing just fine without it and Nerlens Noel kept fouling when he offered it.

Still, that's just a part of Dort's Saturday greatness.

Harden finished with 38 points mostly because he abused the Thunder when he managed to not be guarded by Dort, working his way inside where he made 9 of 14 shots and getting to the foul line, where he made 11 of 15. But he made just 3 of 13 from beyond the 3-point arc and that was all about Dort, which would be plenty for an undrafted free agent who played most of the season on a two-way contract until the Thunder signed him to a real NBA deal, four years for 5.4 million, which only makes him the most underpaid player in the league, still.

It would have been enough, but Dort opened overtime by blocking Harden’s attempt at a driving layup, grabbing an offensive rebound off a Danilo Gallinari miss and taking it back to the basket, drawing Harden’s sixth foul.

Harden’s supposed to foul Dort out, not the other way around. 

You can’t make it up and it’s why OKC ran away from Houston in the extra frame.

Schroder finished with 29 points and Paul got his bounce back game with 26 and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 23, six assists and seven boards and Gallinari hasn’t missed a free throw since the playoffs began and finished with 20 and it’s real hard to lose when four of your guys net 20 or more.

But it’s all in vain if not for Dort.

“He’s amazing,” Schroder said.

Sure enough.

Dort had already done all that he’d done in regulation and the Thunder don’t reach overtime without it.

But the block, the board and the foul he drew … the Rockets had been fine without Harden on the floor the first 12 quarters of the series, but they were lost without him in the extra frame.

The way overtime played out, maybe it’s worth more than a single win. Maybe the Rockets are shaken. Maybe they’re a house of cards. Maybe not, but if it plays out that way, that’s about Dort, too.

Of course, the Thunder could make it easier on themselves.

The other takeaway is Dort doesn’t have to be such a miracle worker.

Too many times in the third and fourth quarters, when OKC had Houston on the run, in position to build a lead toward double digits, the Thunder offered less than their best.

Layups were blown, offensive boards were allowed, the Thunder turned the ball over too much.

Billy Donovan had one directive for his team offensively and he thought they fulfilled it for about the full 48 minutes.

“Play aggressive and attack,” he said.

Perhaps Donovan was right, but his team did not play intelligently for the full 48, suffering too many lost possessions when threatening to build a real lead.

It won anyway.

Because Dort solved Harden and fouled him out, the Thunder solved the Rockets and remain in the series.

They can still be better. Also, they’re nowhere without Dort, a draft afterthought too impossible to believe, even though he’s right there on the screen in front of us.

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