Three Takeaways From The Rockets’ Wild Game 7 Victory Over The Thunder

The Rockets-Thunder series promised to be one of the more entertaining matchups of the first round, and after a maddening, nail-biting conclusion to a grueling seven-game series on Wednesday night, it’s safe to say that it more than delivered on that promise.

Houston somehow emerged with a 104-102 win in Game 7, punching their ticket to round two and a date with the Los Angeles Lakers, but before that happens, here’s what we learned from the dramatic finale to the opening round’s best series.

Game 7s Are The Best (and the Worst)

The final five minutes of Game 7 was one of the more stressful and frustrating viewing experiences of the entire bubble. Play after play, it was one disaster after another, during which each team and won and lost the series countless times. It had everything: comically-broken plays, overly-involved officiating, ill-advised fouls, missed free throws, terrible overall execution, and enough unexpected twists and turns to make you queasy.

The Rockets didn’t win so much as they survived, and it was fitting that the final possession came down to, of all things, a defensive stop from James Harden, who came through with a game-saving block on his new arch-nemesis Luguentz Dort.

Game 7s are always an emotional roller-coaster, and this one had everything you could want from one and more.

All Hail Our New King Dort!

You could be forgiven for not knowing Luguentz Dort’s name prior to the Bubble. The undrafted rookie has had to scratch and claw to secure his place in this league, and that final play notwithstanding, it’s paid tremendous dividends for both him and the Thunder here in the postseason.

Dort’s viability was, understandably, called into question in the middle of this series, wherein the Rockets gave him the Tony Allen treatment and dared him to shoot as many threes as his heart desired. The results were not pretty. But Dort bounced back in a historic way in Game 7.

He finished with 30 points on the night, joining rarefied air as just the third rookie in NBA history to reach that mark in a Game 7 of the playoffs.

He played stifling defense on Harden throughout the series and proved that an off night in Game 6 couldn’t rattle his confidence from long-range, as he knocked down 6-of-12 threes in Game 7 en route to leading all scorers on the night.

We certainly haven’t heard the last of Lu Dort. See you on the other side…

James Harden Was Somehow Granted An 11th Hour Reprieve

James Harden has a reputation for folding in big playoff games. And despite the outcome on Wednesday night, Harden was en route to yet another epic postseason meltdown. By midway through the fourth quarter, Harden had made just three total field goals.

Dort was making life hell on him, just like he’d done all series, and had he not come up with that revenge block in the final seconds, his final box score would’ve haunted him all offseason: 17 points on 4-of-15 shooting, including 1-of-9 from behind the arc.

A Rockets loss would’ve been a damning referendum on Harden and his history of playoff shortfalls, on the wisdom that went into trading Westbrook for Paul, and on Mike D’Antoni, who was already in the hot seat. Fortunately, Westbrook, along with Eric Gordon and Robert Covington, stepped up big time in the second half.

Now, it’s on to the second round, where Harden and the Rockets will once again find themselves under the microscope as they face the No. 1 seeded Lakers and an even bigger obstacle on their journey through the West playoffs. The question is whether this series will have the galvanizing effect they need to push themselves to the next level or reveal the flaws that will ultimately be their downfall.

We’ll find out when Game 1 tips off on Friday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.