The Rockets looked scary at their best in the first two games, but its clear that the Thunder have a chance to match them.
The Rockets came out firing early in game one against the Thunder and set the tone for the series. In this preview, I detailed how Enes Kanter and Taj Gibson could be crucial at making Ryan Anderson unplayable in certain lineups. Houston coach Mike D'Antoni got on the front foot and made sure James Harden, Clint Capela, and Nene exposed the Thunder bigs.
Westbrook and Harden peak at different times
You live and die with Russell Westbrook beast mode. He had 22 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists, two steals and a block in the first half of game two. He was the one that gave the Thunder a 16-4 lead early. When the game was there to be won - well, he just didn't know when to pick his spots. Here's his fourth quarter shooting chart.
Harden on the other hand? He had been picked apart by Andre Roberson and couldn't get the shots he wanted. But he made five of his last seven shots and set Eric Gordon up a number of times for open threes.
Pick and roll the key for Houston
In last year's playoffs, Steven Adams was really impressive at defending the pick and roll. It was clear he read the scouting report - when you have to defend Harden on the perimeter, force him right and be patient. Adams did so, but Harden's lane to the basket was clear as the many shooters took the Thunder defenders away from the paint. Harden did a good job of finishing with his right hand. Harden's job was made much easier when Kanter switched onto him.
Kanter actually defender Harden's right hand and was jumping all over the place. If that happens again, Thunder coach Billy Donovan may not be able to keep him on the floor.
"The bigs, especially me, played trash on the reads and the pick and rolls were absolute garbage," Steven Adams said after game one.
Capela and Nene do their thing
Adams' quote wasn't wrong. In the first half, Capela and Nene were getting plenty of points in the lane. The Thunder defenders were worried about switching. Roberson was all over Harden when he tried to shoot, but Adams, Gibson, and Kanter were all getting lost and leaving plenty of space open for easy lobs. Donovan made the change early in game two. Adams and Gibson stayed back on the pick and roll and defended the paint. After conceding 62 points in the paint in game one, the Thunder big men kept Capela and Nene to 14 points between them.
Adams needs to make his presence felt
Adams looked to have his floater game back in game one, but he was rarely sighted on offense in the second game. He's got the tools to do more on both sides of the floor and his defensive presence led to him a game-high +18 in the plus/minus in game two. His box scores haven't impressive (11 points, 12 rebounds and seven fouls in 56 minutes), but his physicality is definitely there - goodnight Pat Beverley.
Beverley and Roberson more than just role players
Beverley was huge in game one with 21 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 4/6 from behind the arc. He was terrific against Russell Westbrook, holding him to 26% from the field while committing 9 turnovers. He also made Westbrook settle more, instead of trying to get to the rim - the Thunder star took 11 attempts from three while shooting eight free throws.
Roberson is the key to the Thunder's success if he can keep it up. The Rockets left him wide open, which is fair enough considering his career stats, but to his credit, he nailed 4 of his six threes. He finished with 18 points and seven rebounds. He also did the best he could against Harden with three blocks, two steals and early on, he made Harden shoot 1/8 from behind the arc. To his credit, Harden switched up his method of attack and got his teammates the ball and attacked the rim.
Game two was a different story. Roberson was still helpful on offense, being the Thunder's second highest scorer with 12 points (yikes). He also held Harden to 2-10 shooting until about midway through the third quarter. Harden went back to his old ways, playing iso ball, letting the clock run out before attacking the rim and playing for fouls. After snapping out of it, Harden got the Rockets back into the regular D'Antoni style which catapulted them to victory.
Beverley was reasonable again with 15-6-4 and he 'held' Westbrook to 40% shooting from the field. The only problem was Westbrook had a 50-point triple-double. So, yeah - we'll give Westbrook the points in game two.
Well, someone had to catch fire
The danger in facing the Rockets is, of course, their three secondary scorers in Anderson, Gordon and Lou Williams. Anderson has lost the plot. Over the first two games, he's had eight points in total off 2-14 shots. He's yet to make a three-pointer. Gordon was quiet in game one but worked his way to an efficient 22 points off the bench in game two. The big difference maker was Williams though. The Rockets looked stunned in the first quarter of game two and just couldn't score. As soon as Williams came in, he scored 14 points in seven minutes. He finished with 21 points.
Donovan's rotations were all over the place in game two
After seeing Kanter get torched continually in game one, Donovan put Sabonis in as the first big off the bench. He had three fouls in less than three minutes. Gibson played for 20 minutes, Kanter played for seven and Jerami Grant was actually fairly solid in 26 minutes with nine points, five rebounds and two blocks. The other puzzling choice was playing Kyle Singler for 10 minutes - he had one rebound and two fouls in that time. Doug McDermott played for just 13 minutes but had 11 points and was 3-4 from behind the arc. In a game where OKC eventually shot themselves in the foot because Westbrook and Oladipo went 3-18 from three, it's mind boggling that McDermott was wasting away on the bench instead.
It wasn't much better in game one either - both times he has played 12 players. The Rockets, on the other hand, have only really played 8 players all series, with Montrezl Harrell, Bobby Brown and Troy Williams getting junk time minutes in game one.