Rockets can advance, Thunder look to force a Game 7

Sports from the AP

The law of averages says an Oklahoma City Thunder starter will make a 3-pointer relatively quickly on Monday night.

Someone better, or else.

Houston — which famously wasted a chance to reach the NBA Finals by missing 27 consecutive 3-pointers in Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference finals — is a game away from the second round of these playoffs, after watching the Thunder suddenly forget how to shoot on Saturday night. The Rockets will take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 against the Thunder in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on Monday night.

“We’ll go back to the drawing board, see what we did well, see what we didn’t do well,” Thunder guard Chris Paul said.

Houston rolled in Game 5, winning 114-80 on a night where the Thunder missed 14 consecutive 3-pointers in one 19-minute stretch during which the Rockets outscored them 55-25 — basically the entire winning margin.

Thunder starters combined to miss their last 17 attempts from 3-point range and combined for the full game, Oklahoma City’s first-stringers were 1 for 21 from beyond the arc — the worst performance by any starting unit that tried at least 20 3s in a game since Portland went 1 for 21 at New York on Nov. 13, 2001.

“We’re connected, we’re very aware,” Rockets guard Eric Gordon said Sunday. “A team like OKC, they’re a really good team and people don’t give them enough credit. … Our main thing is to stay in front of them and make them take contested shots.”

Controlling emotions could be a challenge for both sides in Game 6. Dennis Schroder led the Thunder with 19 points in Game 5 — 18 in the second quarter, when Oklahoma City had its only lead of the night. But he was ejected midway through the third for hitting Houston’s P.J. Tucker in the midsection; Tucker also was ejected after retaliating with a head-butt.

Schroder was fined $25,000 Sunday for making the contact to the groin area; Tucker was fined $25,000 for escalating the incident. Both will be available to play in Game 6.

If the Rockets win Monday, they would play Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. The Lakers advanced by ousting the Portland Trail Blazers in five games, finishing that series off with a win on Saturday night.

The other game on Monday is Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat.

A look at Game 6 of the Houston-Oklahoma City series:

ROCKETS VS. THUNDER

Houston leads 3-2. Game 6, 9 p.m. EDT, TNT.

— NEED TO KNOW: Oklahoma City is trying to avoid a fourth consecutive first-round exit, while Houston is trying to get to the second round for the fourth straight year.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: What the score is at halftime, because if it’s close: advantage, Houston. The Thunder have shown a tendency to struggle after halftime in the bubble. Oklahoma City has been outscored by 92 points after halftime in 13 games at Disney, failing to score 40 points in the third and fourth quarters combined four times.

— INJURY WATCH: Rockets G Russell Westbrook (quad) returned for Game 5, with seven points and seven assists in just under 24 minutes. He shot 3 for 13, so expect less rust Monday. “This time of year, all that matters is wins,” Westbrook said.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Houston. The Lakers would get nearly a full week to rest if the Rockets don’t win Game 6.

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