APTOPIX Thunder Rockets Basketball

Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) drives into Oklahoma City Thunder's Luguentz Dort (5), right, trying to get up court during the second half of an NBA first-round playoff basketball game in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

You know what they say?

Live in the clutch. 

Die in it, too.

So it is for the Thunder.

Over the regular season, 45 of their games reached “clutch” territory, a five-point-or-closer contest inside the last 5 minutes. 

They went 30-15.

Prior to Wednesday, three of their playoff games went there, too, and they won them all.

In Game 7, against Houston, the winner moving on and remaining inside the Disney bubble, they had the chance, down a point with the apparent last possession after Russell Westbrook’s sixth straight fourth-quarter miss.

The possession went awry, leaving Lu Dort to throw up a hurried 3-point attempt that James Harden blocked.

Down two points with 1.2 seconds remaining, Oklahoma City had one more chance, yet failed to get a shot off.

The Rockets survived, prevailing 104-102.

Though nobody thought they’d get there before the season began, the Thunder wound up bounced from the first round of the playoffs a fourth straight season.

Dort couldn’t have been coach Billy Donovan’s first choice to pull the trigger to win it from deep, but it wasn’t a terrible option this night.

The undrafted rookie had played the game of his life up to that point, finishing with a game-high 30 points on 6 of 12 shooting and 4 of 6 3-point shooting.

If it was Chris Paul’s final game with the Thunder, it was a good one, even a triple-double: 19 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds.

If there was one reason OKC lost, it was because it failed to take care of the ball, finishing with 21 turnovers to Houston’s eight.

Houston failed to shoot 40 percent from the field (35 of 88) or the 3-point arc (17 of 49) and Oklahoma City approached 50 percent from both (35 of 76, 16 of 34). 

The difference was volume, the 12 additional shots the Rockets put up, which had everything to do with the turnovers and an 11-7 advantage on the offensive boards.

Harden finished with only 17 points and Westbrook 20. Eric Gordon and Robert Covington both netted 21.

It was all right there for the Thunder, right where they’d won so many games before.

Just not this one.

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