Houston Rockets Barely Survive Confrontation With Luguentz Dort

Luguentz Dort shoots over James Harden.
Luguentz Dort shoots over James Harden in the Western Conference first round during the 2020 NBA playoffs at the Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on Saturday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In the immortal words of the Bard, ’Tis better to have Dorted and lost than never to have Dorted at all. The Houston Rockets are headed to the second round of the NBA playoffs after their 104–102 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and they did it in true Houston Rockets fashion: a clutch Game 7 victory thanks to James Harden’s defense.

Wait, what?

The NBA’s Walt Disney World bubble is inherently odd, but the crucial play of the Rockets’ big win on Wednesday was weird even by pandemic-in-the–Magic Kingdom standards. First, let’s take a look at what happened.

Now, some context: Houston was hanging onto a 1-point lead when the ball trickled into the hands of Thunder rookie Lu Dort. Under normal circumstances this would be a comfortable scenario for the Rockets because Luguentz Dort is a defensive specialist. Or, more specifically, he’s a James Harden specialist.

Dort is built like an industrial copier and has a knack for defending the league’s best scorer. He’d been glued to the Houston star all series, but there was a catch: The unheralded Dort (salary: $155,647) doesn’t really participate on offense. He averaged 9 points a contest this series and went 0–9 from 3-point land in Game 5. In theory, it was in Houston’s best interest to leave him alone during Wednesday’s incredibly important affair. In practice, however, Dort turned into Ray Allen.

Dort finished the evening with 30 points (a game high) on 6-for-12 shooting from deep. Harden, meanwhile, only managed 17 points. For in-depth analysis on his struggles, let’s check in with the league’s reigning scoring champion:

Opposite Day goes both ways, however, and Harden’s defense wound up being the difference in the end. His block helped prevent a near-disaster for the Rockets, whose recent playoff history can only be described as “Mr. Bean sticking his head in that dang turkey over and over again.” The whole thing was enough to almost kill Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni.

The final few minutes transpired like an open bar in a bounce house (thanks in part to some peculiar refereeing), but Oklahoma City’s final play was a dud and failed to live up to the drama of the game’s previous 48 minutes.

Maybe get the ball to Lu Dort next time? That guy really knows how to score.

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