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Series Hub: Thunder/Rockets Round 1

Series Hub: Thunder/Rockets Round 1

For the playoffs, it’s all hands on deck at Daily Thunder. Check back here for all your Round 1 needs.


GAME 1 – Tuesday, August 18 @ 5:30 PM – ? TNT

GAME 2 – Thursday, August 20 @ 2:30 PM – ? ESPN

GAME 3 – Saturday, August 22 @ 5:00 PM – ? ESPN

GAME 4 – Monday, August 24 @ 3:00 PM – ? TNT

GAME 5 – Saturday, August 29 @ 3:00PM – ? TNT

GAME 6Monday, August 31 @ 8:00PM – ? TNT

GAME 7 – Wednesday, September 2 @ 8:00PM – ? ESPN

Our Predictions

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Thunder Playoff Rankings

1.0: At the Gates

1.1: Taking Some Lumps

1.2: In a Hole

1.3: Signs of Mojo

1.4: Cracking the Code

1.6: We Know What We Know

  1. Chris Paul (+1)
  2. Dennis Schröder (+1)
  3. Danilo Gallinari (+1)
  4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (-3)
  5. Luguentz Dort (+0)
  6. Darius Bazley (+0)
  7. Billy Donovan (+0)
  8. Steven Adams (+1)
  9. Nerlens Noel(-1)
  10. Terrance Ferguson (+0)
  11. Mike Muscala (+0)
  12. Abdel Nader (+0)
  13. Andre Roberson (+0)
  14. Hamidou Diallo (+0)
  15. Deonte Burton (+0)

Keys to the Series

How can the Thunder defend the Rockets?

Ryan Woods: With Russell Westbrook playing, I think OKC could find success with Steven Adams on Westbrook giving him space to shoot. It keeps Adams close to the paint to help on James Harden drives and encourages the ball to move to a non-shooter (e.g. parking Danilo Gallinari on P.J. Tucker). Without Russ, trapping Harden early feels like the play… especially if Lu Dort is out. Sell out to get the ball out of Harden’s hands and test Houston’s shooters who lack playoff experience. As I’m typing this I’m incredibly curious how former Rocket Chris Paul is answering this same question to Billy Donovan.

Cray Allred: There’s the standard stuff with Harden and the Rockets: don’t foul on the stepback, force him right, aim for controlled chaos by scrambling on the back line between shooters after he runs high pick-and-roll. Of course, Harden makes simple basketball actions brain-scramblingly difficult for the best players in the world. Since the shot selection math will surely favor the Rockets (3 > 2), I think how the Thunder pick their poison will be crucial. The three players Houston needs to play most who are also candidates to go very cold are Robert Covington, Eric Gordon, and… Westbrook (in the midrange, or from deep if he reverts in desperation). If there is a way to force as much of the non-Harden burden into a willing-but-shaky shooter, the Thunder should ride the cold hand.

How can the Thunder score on the Rockets?

Woods: PLAY FAST! Houston going super small has tricked teams into leaning into its size advantage, but slowing the game down does two things. 1. Lets Harden and Westbrook rest away from the ball, allowing them to play at such a fast pace on offense for longer. 2. Allows Tucker to do what he does so well: guard above his weight class. It takes a Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic level of offensive center to make that many post possessions worth it against a team that shoots such a high percentage of its shots from three-point range. OKC is at its best when the ball moves to find a mismatch. This is the exact formula for beating Houston. Harden and Westbrook aren’t multiple effort defenders, too much is expected of them on the other end for that. Dribble-penetration will lead to so many open shots in the lane for guards and lobs to Adams, as well as open looks for threes.

Olivia Panchal: Live or die by the CP3/Adams PNR. I can’t wait to watch Adams feast on the 6’7 Danuel House. If Adams is fully healthy like at the start of these seeding games, House doesn’t stand a chance. On top of that, any game without Russ is a must-win for the Thunder because there are going to be games where the Thunder can’t hit air while Russ is in triple-double mode. As we all know, a Russ in motion stays in motion.

Thunder X-factor

Woods: Darius Bazley and/or Andre Roberson succeeding at the 5. If OKC can not only win playing big, but be effective going small, I think the Thunder take the series. The lineup I want to see: Paul – Schröder – Gilgeous-Alexander – Dort – Roberson. Let it eat, Billy!

Panchal: From Dort to Roberson to Hamidou Diallo, the Thunder can throw the defensive kitchen sink at Harden without exhausting one guy. Put Roberson at the 4 and let him play the Nick Collison role of just drawing fouls and making life extremely difficult for Harden (no bloodshed, though). Most of the time, a deep bench isn’t really an asset in the playoffs, but I think the Thunder can take advantage of the fact that Houston has like seven actual guys.

Allred: Billy Donovan. One of the most buttoned-up coaches in the league, his wild streak as a tactician and rotation juggler has frustrated Thunder fans in the regular season…and Thunder opponents in the playoffs. His wont to mix and match with a variety of size and athleticism worked to overwhelm past foes like the Spurs and Warriors. But the last time Donovan’s Thunder met the Rockets in postseason play, their force and aggression played into the flopmaster’s hands, as they lacked the discipline to keep their hands out of the cookie jar. Oklahoma City gave up 3.7 more free throws to Harden in the 2017 opening round than he averaged in the regular season for Houston that year. That was when Donovan’s roster was, unbeknownst to us, on a bridge from the freak athlete units of 2016 to the acutely skilled group he has now. What rotation choices and schemes might the coach employ to better counter the Rockets’ math and micro-tism this time around?

Rockets X-factor

Woods: Eric Gordon. With Westbrook out Gordon will have to assume a larger scoring role. He’s had a dreadful shooting season (34 percent from the field, 27 percent from three), but if he were to break out of that slump he could be huge in making up for Russ’s absence.

Panchal: Austin Rivers. He dropped 41 points on the Kings in the Bubble. I’m not saying he’ll do the same to OKC, but he has the capability to get hot quick and give the Rockets’ meager bench a big spark. Just the idea of getting torched by a mediocre player is giving me major Joe Ingles flashbacks and I don’t like it at all.

Allred: Jeff Green. For one game, before disappearing again.