Perception. The interpretation of a “what if” reality. To many in the media, the feeling is the Houston Rockets should be up 3-0. If James Harden had hit one of the two threes he had at the end of the game, the Rockets could definitely be looking at a sweep today. But the thing with perceptions is that there is usually an opposite view that could have definitely happened also. Had the Oklahoma City Thunder played a little bit better in Game 2, they might be looking at a 2-1 lead in the series. But of course, reality is usually in the middle of all the perceptions. And that’s where we are today.
The Houston offense is like an intricate riddle. Do you focus most of your attention on Harden? Or do you focus on the shooters? In the regular season, you can kill teams with this “pick your poison” strategy. But in the playoffs, when teams play each other 4-7 times, eventually, there is a “Eureka!” moment where one team finally sees something that works and deploys it.
Maybe that’s where the Thunder are now. They’ve been able to build leads on the Rockets. But they’ve also given up leads in quick succession. They’ve gone from completely switching in Game 1, to mixing in switching and hedging in Game 2, to switching with different personnel in Game 3. They seem to have found a balance between guarding Harden and staying on the shooters that is working.
Houston coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t known for making brash adjustments. The Thunder may see a tweak or two on the offense, but for the most part, what you see from Houston is what you are going to get. As D’Antoni said in his press conference after Game 3, “It’s a make or miss league, and we missed a lot tonight.”
- Oklahoma City – None
- Houston – Sam Dekker (hand)
3 Big Things
1. 1-2 Pick and Roll
One adjustment Houston might make today is deploying a Patrick Beverley/James Harden pick and roll. It worked in Game 1, as the starting backcourt for the Rockets combined for 58 points, 17 boards, and 12 assists. After Beverley struggled in Game 3, Houston may want to get him going again by using this strategy. They seemed to have gotten Ryan Anderson going after using Harden/Anderson pick and rolls in Game 3, so they are probably hoping that will work with Beverley in this game.
Another advantage to this strategy is getting Westbrook on Harden if they switch. The Thunder got Harden and Beverley in a bit of foul trouble last game, so putting the pressure on Westbrook defensively, may get him into a bit of foul trouble.
2. Heavy Legs
The Rockets’ playoff rotation involves 8 players. That’s it. The starters and Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, and Nene off the bench. The increased work load could be causing them to play with heavier legs in the playoffs, which may be the cause of the missed shots in Game 3. If the Thunder can get them running in transition in this game like they did in the previous one, they may find the Rockets missing shots in the second half they normally make.
Trevor Ariza, especially appears to be playing with heavy legs. The Rockets’ forward has logged 2.6 minutes more per game in the playoffs, and his production has suffered immensely. His scoring is more than half what it was in the regular season (11.7 to 5.0), and he has yet to make a three in the playoffs (on 6 attempts). Even though Ariza isn’t a huge part of their offense, his production supplies the extra “ummph” needed to outscore teams. Also, he’s a defensive player, but who exactly is he keeping tabs on on that end of the floor?
3. Thunder Death Line-Up?
As Matt Craig wrote about after Game 3, Oklahoma City may have found themselves a potent death line-up featuring Westbrook at the point, Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott on the wings, Andre Roberson as the 4, and Taj Gibson at the 5. With the wings and Roberson spread out on the perimeter, and Gibson as a threat to be a mid-range shooter, the middle opens up that much more for Westbrook. It was only used for 2 minutes, but it just felt right.