Paul has 28, helps Thunder force Game 7 against the Rockets

Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Dennis Schroder (17) is forced to pass the ball as Houston Rockets’ Russell Westbrook, bottom center, Jeff Green (32) and P.J. Tucker (17) defend during the second half of an NBA first-round playoff basketball game, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Chris Paul and the Thunder had their backs to the bubble wall, a tougher spot than usual when facing elimination.

This time meant lots of packing, getting ready for a potential return home after a long time away. They weren’t interested in their trip — or their season — ending.

“We’re not ready to go yet,” Paul said.

He made sure they wouldn’t.

Paul gave the Thunder at least one more game at Disney, scoring 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter for a 104-100 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday night in Game 6 of a Western Conference first-round series.

Paul made two free throws with 13.1 seconds left and the game tied at 100, and Danilo Gallinari added two more after a turnover by Russell Westbrook to finish it off.

Game 7 will be Wednesday night, with the winner advancing to face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. James Harden said the Rockets’ mindset won’t change.

“To go win,” he said. “It’s simple.”

It gives the West two Game 7s, with Denver and Utah set to play theirs on Tuesday.

In a game that was close all the way — neither team led by double digits — the Thunder bounced back from a blowout in Game 5. And nobody handles close games better than Paul, who led the NBA with 150 points in clutch situations, defined as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five or fewer points.

“We expect him to make those shots, especially at the end of the game,” Gallinari said.

Gallinari added 25 points.

Harden had 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Rockets, while Robert Covington had 18 and Westbrook 17 in his second game back from a right quadriceps strain.

But they combined for 12 of the Rockets’ 22 turnovers, saying Houston has lost the close games more than Oklahoma City won them.

“It’s kind of been on us, to be completely honest,” Westbrook said.

Houston got its most dominant playoff victory in Game 5, winning 114-80 after holding Oklahoma City to 31.5% shooting. But the Thunder shook that off, just as they did a 2-0 deficit in the series.

Westbrook scored five straight points to open the third and the Rockets would get the lead as high as nine in the period. But Gallinari kept it from getting any worse and then Lu Dort, a dreadful 3 for 16 overall and 0 for 9 from 3-point range in Game 5, had a layup and two 3s for an 8-0 run that ended the quarter and sent Oklahoma City to the fourth with a 77-75 lead.

Oklahoma City extended it to eight, but Houston wiped that out with an 18-4 run that provided a 98-92 lead. Paul answered with consecutive 3-pointers to knot it again, and he later unknotted it for good.

Most of the first half was played within a margin of just a few points either way. The Thunder continued to misfire, hitting just 41.7% overall and going only 3 for 15 on 3-pointers.

But they defended well and the Rockets didn’t crack 30 points until more than 4 1/2 minutes into the second quarter. Harden scored six straight points late in the half and Eric Gordon hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 51-48 lead.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Covington is averaging 18 in the last three games after totaling 18 in the first three. … Gordon had just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting.

Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished sixth in the voting for the Most Improved Player award, won Monday by Brandon Ingram of New Orleans.

REMEMBERING A RIVAL

There was a moment of silence before the game for John Thompson, the Hall of Fame Georgetown coach who died at 78. Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan played against Thompson’s teams when he was at Providence in the 1980s, and lost an NIT game to his last postseason team in 1998 after he began coaching at Florida.

“Certainly I think the Big East back then was really defined by the coaches and those guys being such great figureheads, and certainly coach Thompson was that,” Donovan said. “I think the things that you look at, the things that he was a part of, the things he did away from basketball were I think incredible for the growth of our country and the growth of our game.”

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT?

The Rockets and Thunder are the only teams remaining at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, one of three hotels that housed NBA teams for the restart. Houston coach Mike D’Antoni joked he never had to worry about bumping into any Thunder personnel in the elevator because he takes the stairs, but Donovan said the accommodations weren’t an issue.

“People got their own schedules, their own routines, the things that they’ve got to do,” Donovan said, “so you cross paths but it’s always been pleasant.”

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