In a game marked by the absence of a double-digit lead for either team at any moment, the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder put on an entertaining show in Game 6 on Monday evening. It wasn’t exactly an offensive exhibition, with both teams failing to score even one point per possession, but Chris Paul excelled in crunch time and the Rockets couldn’t keep up on the way to a 104-100 final margin that prompts a Game 7 on Wednesday in the NBA’s Orlando Bubble.
With that as the backdrop, here are three takeaways from Game 6, all with an eye on Game 7.
1. Chris Paul can still go
With the game on the line, Paul was the best player on the floor in Game 6. Yes, Harden is the superior player at this stage, but Paul was legitimately brilliant in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 3-of-3 from three-point range — he finished the night with 28 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, with no turnovers.
.@CP3 is COOKING 🍳
Get to TNT for the 4th QTR of Rockets/Thunder! pic.twitter.com/GVs3a65cAo
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 1, 2020
Chris Paul keeping OKC in it 🍿 pic.twitter.com/iJAc0pOns1
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 1, 2020
To be fair, Paul did get an ill-advised technical foul (air punch!) that could have burned the Thunder but, in the end, he was also the biggest reason that Oklahoma City lived to fight another day. The entire 2019-20 season has been something of a revenge tour for the “Point God,” leading an undervalued team to the playoffs and staying healthy and productive all the way through the campaign. That continues here, with Paul bringing his teammates along for the ride and prompting a winner-take-all matchup on Wednesday.
2. Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon have to be better
A lot will be made of Westbrook’s errant pass in the final seconds, as the Rockets trailed by two points and the future Hall of Fame guard tossed the ball out of bounds.
It's a costly turnover from Russell Westbrook and the Thunder force a Game 7.
This is going to be good 🍿 pic.twitter.com/h1bcL5RGJL
— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) September 1, 2020
Make no mistake, it was a poor play at an inopportune time but, even with the ball, the Rockets are underdogs to win the game with a two-point deficit and no single possession is responsible for the final result. Still, Westbrook made quite a few errors in Game 6, committing seven turnovers in 27 minutes and submarining Houston’s defense at times. It is worth noting that he continues to ease his way back from an injury, including the fact that the Rockets have him on a pitch count in terms of minutes, but Westbrook was an overall negative in this game, even when accounting for his gravity as a rim-attacking force.
As for Gordon, it was just not his night. The veteran guard shot just 3-of-12 from the floor and 1-of-6 from three, joining Westbrook in committing four turnovers. His transition defense was also problematic, and the Rockets simply can’t reach their goals if their No. 2 and No. 3 shotmakers flounder to this degree. Of course, no one should assume Westbrook and Gordon will be this bad, but Game 6 was a reminder that Houston is going to ride with their shortened rotation, and they just need more from this duo.
3. Game 7 is looming and there is a lot at stake
The stakes are always high in Game 7’s, just by nature of the win-or-go-home setup. Still, both teams have a lot riding on Wednesday’s tilt, albeit in far different circumstances.
For Houston, the pressure is immense. The Rockets are widely seen as the superior team and, with the Lakers looming, many seemed to overlook even the possibility that Houston could fall short of the second round. From there, Mike D’Antoni has an uncertain contractual situation beyond this season, and Houston’s small-ball approach could be in for further investigation if they are not able to prevail in the clincher. And, on top of all of that, they’d be losing a series to the player they dealt away this past summer.
On the Oklahoma City side, the pressure isn’t as significant, if only because the Thunder were not “supposed” to be here. Paul has been masterful all season long, Danilo Gallinari flashed some of his brilliance with 25 points in Game 6, and the Thunder have overachieved when compared to any reasonable expectation. In the same breath, Oklahoma City could be considering a full-fledged rebuild if things don’t break the correct way, with Gallinari on an expiring deal and both Paul and Steven Adams owed considerable money for the future.
Do the Thunder blow it up if they fall short? Do the Rockets look for a major tweak if this season ends with a first round exit amid lofty expectations and real buzz? Let’s just say that Game 7 could dictate a lot of decisions, for better or worse.