The Houston Rockets take their newly discovered swagger to Oklahoma City for a Game 5 matchup with the Thunder.
Before the opening tip, the Dream Shake writers form up to go over some bits n' pieces from Game 4:
1. The key factor driving the Rockets to their Game 4 victory:
Thomas: Defense. The Rockets should not have won this game. James Harden's isolation dribble jumpshot closing was horrific. If I had to attribute the win to something concrete I'd go with defense. The Rockets have been great at making Durant's life difficult and there has been a notable uptick in defensive intensity from guys like Beverley, Garcia, and Asik.
Xiane: Role Players. Superb play from most Rockets other than Harden. Also the clear lack of Joey Crawford helped. Despite 38pts from Kevin Durant, the Rockets made him work for his actual in game shots for the most part - some of his makes were "Well, he's Kevin Freaking Durant:. But he also benefited from a Kobe Bryant like forcefield allowing a lot of soft fouls that lead to FT points. Rockets beat OKC essentially without Harden, and Durant going for nearly 40.
Patrick: Making Shots. Absent a brief stretch in the 2nd half of game three, the Rockets were unable to get anything going from behind the arc. In game four, they connected, and took the game.
Max: Making Shots: The Rockets shot 44% from three. The first three games: 30 for 108 or 27.7%. This is a shooting team. We don't stand a chance to win games where we don't make or take threes.
AK: Parsons & Asik. Parsons has seemed invisible at times and Asik has been outplayed by Serge Ibaka consistently throughout this series. When the two bedrocks of consistency for this team aren't giving you anything, you're in deep trouble. They both came through in a big way in game 4.
Matthew: Fourth Quarter Defense. Yes, they shot much better (44%) from the 3-point line and got contributions from a number of players, but the bottom line is they got stops when they needed to late in Wednesday's victory. The defense from Garcia, Beverley and Asik on the last possession was perfect.
Jordan: Perseverance. In the first game in this series that the Rockets started off well, Houston survived several OKC runs, an anemic offensive performance from Harden, 22 turnovers (26 points off) and major foul trouble at critical junctures of the second half. Did I mention we were without Lin the entire game? It truly was a gritty, character building victory that will serve this group well into the future. They found a way to come back over the top after losing a formerly encouraging lead to win on the heels of critical plays in the final possessions of the game on both sides of the ball.
David: Home Court Advantage. The difference between this game and, say, Game 2 was that the Rockets were not tight and were taking (and making) open jump shots. Just one extra made three point shot was the difference between winning and losing. If you think about it, the Rockets could VERY easily be up 3-1 in this series if they had made a few more open jumpers.
2. What's wrong with James Harden? How can he adjust for Game 5?:
Thomas: Harden had his worst game as a Houston Rocket. I'm not going to hold that against him and I don't expect a performance that bad from him ever again. The adjustment that needs to be made falls on the coaches. We need to find a way to get good looks without Harden isolating late in the game.
Xiane: I think two things were wrong with Harden tonight - one is, I think he's hurting - he didn't seem to want the ball much of the time - not moving, not driving, not dishing. Also the refs allowed OKC to flop and Harden couldn't get in a rhythm due to the astonishingly bad offensive fouls, and general ticky-tack slop called on him. Remember, the refs kept him chained to the bench for all but about 3 minutes of the 4th, and much the same in the first. National TV is sort of brutal on a fast paced attacking team like Houston, too, with monstrous breaks that drain the aggression from the squad.
Patrick: I'm inclined to think game four was just an isolated bad night. When he drove to the rim, he did pretty well, but he just couldn't hit a thing from deep and his passes kept getting deflected. I'm cautiously optimistic that he'll rebound.
Max: Fouls and time on the bench kept Harden from finding a groove. His game and shot played like a broken food processor -- a stop and start flurry of elbows, jumpshots and turnovers, lord were there turnovers. He's clearly tired and OKC has done a better job defending him as the series has gone on. He and McHale have to recognize when iso offense isn't going to work.
AK: Harden is definitely not 100%, but instead of picking his spots and forcing help defense to get others open shots, he pulled up in his isolation plays. It's pretty simple: the Rockets can run isolation with Harden if he drives because it either leads to a Harden lay-up/foul or it leads to someone getting an open look off the defensive collapse. However, when Harden pulls up from 20 feet, it doesn't help anyone and is an inefficient shot. Finally, the true difference between Durant and Harden was evident late in the fourth quarter. Harden was taking 20 footers off of isolation, while Durant was getting to the rim for dunks. In game 5, Harden has to attack more and force the help defense to cover. Amazingly, the Rockets won this game despite Harden playing the worst game of the season.
Matthew: First, he's got to recognize when he's not hitting shots and learn to penetrate in those late game isolation situations to create for other guys. He also needs to slow things down offensively and quit forcing so many ill-advised passes in transition. Instead of trying so hard to prove he's a superstar, Harden just needs to keep penetrating and start making better decisions with the basketball.
Jordan: Harden has certainly been in a bit of a slump lately, but tonight was particularly bad. While Harden has yet to break 1.00 point per possession in any game in this series, it's usually between .8-.9. Tonight, it was .6. His shot was off even more than it usually has been this series, he was getting called for several offensive fouls, and he just could not keep a handle on the ball when he drove to the rim. Nothing needs to structurally change for him, his shots will start falling again. In the meantime he just needs to facilitate more and keep a handle on his drives and he will be back to his true form in no time.
David: Hero Ball. As I posted back in November, Harden is a great, great team player for 46 minutes. But for some reason, NBA players deemed the "#1 option" feel they must hold onto the ball and kill any sort of momentum while forcing shots at the end of the game. You would think Harden could/would rise above this. He has not nor has he shown any indication of changing this anytime soon.
3. The biggest problem Russell Westbrook's absence creates for the Oklahoma City Thunder is:
Thomas: You can double Durant without severe repercussions.
Xiane: Perimeter defense, fast break scoring. The Thunder don't miss his scoring much in my opinion (especially when Derek Fisher, who is disliked even by his own dog ,can shoot lights out). Kevin Durant can (as we've seen) pick up the scoring slack pretty easily, in some ways the Thunder might be better - all the rest of the Thunder players only take good shots, and Durant takes the rest. Not having to make sure Westbrook gets his beak wet so that we all know that Mommy loves both her superstars the best, could be a positive for OKC. Because as great as Westbrook is, Durant is better.
Patrick: They are very predictable in late game situations. The Rockets were able to exploit that by loading up against Durant on that last possession, and the Thunder couldn't make them pay.
Max: Westbrook's absence slows the Thunder offense. Their fast break opportunities and fast break points have decreased significantly. Westbrook is the spark for much of this. His ever-present cat-dog like perimeter defending creates turnovers and fast break opportunities.
AK: The Rockets can double Durant and do everything they can to keep the ball away from him. It took a great effort from Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson to keep the Thunder in this one, and Kevin Martin played well too. The Rockets had guys step up, too. But tonight the Rockets learned that even if Durant goes nuts, they can force the ball out of his hands and let someone else beat them.
Matthew: Play making and transition offense. In the two games with Westbrook, the Thunder averaged 24 assists and 22.5 fast break points. Without him, they've averaged 16 assists and 7.5 fast break points. One could argue Westbrook prevents Durant from being double-teamed, but Wednesday's game pretty much proved it doesn't matter how many defenders you put on Kevin Durant.
Jordan: A lack of a bona-fide second scoring and playmaking threat. The Rockets were able to get the ball out of Durant's hands on numerous occasions by doubling teaming and accepting more open shots from the likes of Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, and Derek Fisher who combined for 30 field goal attempts (41% of their total fgas). Reggie Jackson lead the team in field goal attempts (18) but was nearly dead last in field goal percentage (38.9%).
David: Without Westbrook, the Rockets can double Durant without having to completely gamble on defensive rotations. Sure, Derek Fisher is still a flopping bitch who makes spot-up 3s from time to time, but I'll take that instead of Russell Westbrook going mad on Lin/Beverley/ABZ and causing chaos for 40+ minutes a night.
Answer our three questions in the comments:
- The key factor driving the Rockets to their Game 4 victory:
- What's wrong with James Harden? How can he adjust for Game 5?:
- The biggest problem Russell Westbrook's absence creates for the Oklahoma City Thunder is: