A humming offense and defense from the Houston Rockets bring the series back to Houston for Game 6 after a win in Oklahoma City.
The Dream Shake writers tackle some questions about what went right for the Rockets, the Hack-an-Omer strategy and who were the Rockets top performers.
1. What did James Harden do differently?
David: Nothing. The media will play up the "he was ill" angle, but really, the only difference is that Harden continued to take borderline bad shots. He just happened to make them in Game 5. (Note: I still do not advocate for hero ball, even if it "worked" in Game 5. One good result does not negate reams of statistical data to the contrary.)
Jesus: Confidence. James Harden stopped playing hero ball and forcing bad shots and let the game come to him. By making his first couple shots early in the game it got his engine going. As opposed to Game 4, last night Harden shot the ball with more confidence and chose wisely which times to run an ISO play. Including the roll-the-ball-across-the-halfcourt-line-shot 2 for 1 play that only took two seconds off the clock, giving Aaron Brooks enough time to race back
Max: Flow. He took the shots he was making while allowing the offense to move around and with him. There was still hero ball and iso, but he didn't trap the offense as much in past games. His "walk the dog" play was one of my favorite plays of the season.
2. The Rockets D prevented Durant from taking over this game by:
David: Hustle. Every time Durant got the ball... at least two Rockets busted ass to get in his way. If Reggie Jackson had the ball? More like a casual jog. If Derek Fisher caught a pass? More like stunned shock that he wasn't already lying prone on the ground trying to draw cheap foul calls.
Jesus: Grit. The Rockets wing defenders did a great job of not letting Kevin Durant get the ball in a comfortable place. Garcia and Parsons made it difficult for Durant to get on a roll or hit many consecutive baskets. Durant had 36 points but 13 of them came from the free throw line and most of the time he was there because he got the calls that stars usually do.
Max: Denying. The strategy tonight was to pressure Durant as much as possible. He's going to get his points, make the other players on the Thunder beat the Rockets. The Rockets pressured him to give up the ball and kept him marked the length of the court. Did you notice Cisco walking up the court with him the entire way?
3. Scott Brooks' Hack-an-Omer strategy was:
David: Not as bad of a strategy as you would want to think. I'm all for the "Hack-a-xxxx" strategy if the guy shoots under 60% typically. It's mathematically sound. It extends the game. And with the Thunder initially being down by 14, they were able to get it down to 7 in less than a minute by implementing this strategy. But then OKC forgot how to make shots of their own and the Rockets easily boosted it back to double figures. Omer deserves praise for not collapsing under obvious pressure.
Jesus: Boring. I get why teams do it. I get why the Rockets did it to Dwight Howard earlier in the season. I get the endgame behind it. But it is plain boring to have to sit there, in the middle of the playoffs mind you, and watch free throw after free throw. I hope the league does something about it that would deter teams from doing it anymore. All that a side, I'm proud of Omer Asik for knocking down 8/12 during the Hack-a-Asik marathon.
Max: Drawn out. Unfortunately the strategy makes sense. Unfortunately it takes an unseemly amount of our lives. In this instance the Thunder should have abandoned the strategy. They had been scoring in transition, not the half court where the Rockets were denying Durant. And Omer was hitting his free throws.
4. Rank your three best Rockets performers tonight:
1. Omer Asik - Defense, rebounding and 11 FTs. Just what the Rockets needed
2. Patrick Beverley - Overcame a touch-and-go 1Q to have a really great game. (Sidenote: why the hell is McHale having Beverley being the one to call sideline time-outs? That only encourages OKC to go after him more aggressively and potentially cause a conflict. Ex. A? The cheap technical foul on Patrick.)
3. James Harden - No, not for the iso/hero ball antics. For making the correct pass and actually going to the basket when the game was decided in the late 3rd/early 4th Q. He was solid and his 8 rebounds were also hugely important.
1. Omer Asik - Dominated the paint and stepped up to hit big free throws during Hack-A-Asik. Think about this, Asik shot 13-18 from the line while Durant shot 13-16.
2. James Harden - The Beard was aggressive and decisive when driving to the hoop and was nearly perfect from behind the arc going 7-9 from 3-point range.
3. Francisco Garcia - Yes, most of his damage came in the first half, but every one of his shots was a big one and he has turn into the Rockets main defender against Durant.
1. Omer Asik - Hitting the free throws made Scott Brooks look helpless and proved to the Thunder what Rockets fans already know, Asik won't back down. His presence in the middle is the linchpin of the Rockets defensive efforts, including against Durant.
2. James Harden - Without his offense we are not a competitive team. Chandler Parsons covered first base for him in Game 4, but then proved it can't be relied on every night. There's a lot of Harden hero ball in Game 5, but that's ok when you're shooting 7 for 7 from three.
3. Patrick Beverley - ICE WATER. His energy forced turnovers, he made open threes he was given and he facilitated the offense. All accomplished while every person in the building wanted to put cement blocks on his feet.