This week on TDS Tuesday, we discuss Game 1 and look forward to Game 2.
We look at some of the highlights of Game 1 and touch on Game 2 and what to expect.
This week’s TDS Panelists include Ethan Rothstein (ER), Colin Ainsworth (CA), Xian E (XE), Max Croes (MC), and Adam Sweeney (AS).
1. Who needs to step up from the Rockets in Game 2?
ER: The sixth and seventh men. The Rockets can't rely on Westbrook having another poor showing. If that happens, the bench must become the advantage we know it has the potential to be. Eric Gordon and Lou Williams were quiet, although not terrible, for the most part, in Game 1. If they can start playing with Sixth Man of the Year-type confidence, they can tilt a game. The Rockets' bench should be a huge difference-maker in this series.
CA: The answer is pretty clear here: it's Lou Williams, and it's been Lou Williams for the last few weeks. I get that Lou is streaky, always has been. But if he can just hit his first shot, I wouldn't be surprised if he hits the next 10. I commend him for trying to shoot his way out of this slump, and I am salivating waiting for it to work.
XE: It’s hard to complain about anyone when the Rockets cruised to victory and held the Thunder under 90. But the game was in question until the third when OKC decided to cheap shot Beverley because he was proving too much for Westbrook to handle. But I would say the same guys who stepped up in Game 1, Harden, Beverley, Nene, Capela. It would be nice to see more contributions in scoring from Gordon, Anderson, Ariza and Williams, because Oladipo will almost certainly shoot better, as will Westbrook. Though Roberson will very likely shoot worse.
MC: Ryan Anderson and Lou Williams were 0 - 7 from three. No one needs to step up, but we won't win a series if they never make a three.
AS: Lou Williams has been MIA in April, particularly with respect to his field goal percentage (He is shooting under 33% from the field this month). He is mainly getting his numbers through trips to the free throw line but that isn't going to cut it. Sweet Lou was brought in to jump-start the second unit. If he can't produce on offense then he is more or less useless as a playoff participant, when players are, you know, expected to give effort on both ends of the court. Imagine that! It would be encouraging to see him start hitting from behind the arc so that the Thunder defense has to extend themselves. He has shot over 30% from three-point land in just ONE game over the past month. Not too sweet at all.
2. Pat Beverley was a monster, but he left to go to the locker room twice with injuries. Does that concern you?
ER: Beverley's injury risk always concerns me. If it's not the small injuries he's already had, then it's the inevitable one around the corner as a result of his playing style. What doesn't concern me is the idea that he would lose his edge after that Adams shot. If anything it will only embolden him; what else can the Thunder do to him? He has two full days to rest up and get treatment, but I'm much more concerned with what might happen to his body in every game than with what just did in Game 1.
CA: Pat Beverley could break all of his fingers and then chew them off and I would still expect him to start next to James Harden in the next game. I'm not concerned at all.
XE: Of course it concerns me. The Thunder did their best to take out Beverley, and given the “sporting" nature of several OKC players, I expect to see it again. Having two full days to recover should help considerably.
MC: Yup. This playoffs may be the most important basketball Beverley ever plays. A back strain or spasms would derail Houston's second best player.
AS: Hell yes it does. If the Rockets are in a playoff version of Fast and the Furious, then James Harden is Dom Toretto and Patrick Beverley is the nitrous in the Rocket engine. Nobody hustles like Bev and I honestly think "The Wolverine" gets under Russell Westbrook's skin. I was surprised he survived the head-on collision with Steven Adams, which was a total cheapshot, btw. But hey, at least the Thunder got to celebrate that pick like it was 1999 eighteen years later, ignoring the fact that they got their asses handed to them. I expect Beverley to fight through the dings but it bears some observation to see how intense the injury to his back is.
3. What is a key for the Rockets in Game 2?
ER: Maintaining the defensive intensity level. The Rockets were outstanding at getting into the passing lanes and cleaning up the defensive glass, two areas that can take them from bad to good on the defensive end. The Rockets are an offensive machine at this point. Their championship potential is unlocked if they're playing defense at the level they just did in Game 1, holding a Western Conference playoff team to 87 points.
CA: Key for Game 2 is going to be to weather what is sure to be a storm from the Thunder coming out the gate. I wouldn't be surprised if Westbrook puts up 20 in the first half, and I'm really fine if he does. It's about how the Rockets respond that that hot start incoming, and I'm willing to bet they respond well at home.
XE: Keep up the defensive pressure, respond, or hopefully anticipate the changes OKC will make in their defensive coverages. I imagine they won’t be isolating their power forwards and centers off switches on picks much after this game. Given the shooting we saw from Gordon, Williams, Ariza and also Harden until late, I’d think OKC would now choose to take their chances with the 3pt scoring.
MC: Shoot open threes. Beat OKC on the boards. Let Westbrook get his while cutting off everything else.
If the Rockets can keep up the rebounding edge, even better. I doubt this will happen, as rather than crashing the glass as they usually do, it seemed like OKC wanted to take away the Rockets fast break, which they largely did, but at a heavy cost to themselves.
AS: Stay hungry. When you beat a team in Game 1 by 31 there is inevitably going to be some swagger that kicks in, but there is a fine line between confidence and cockiness. We have watched the Rockets cough up big leads pretty consistently this season so the mental resolve will be tested in Game 2. Focus needs to be displayed from "The Beard" down to Bobby Brown. To me, a 31-point win almost could be less advantageous than a 2-point victory. Billy Donovan and the Thunder will regroup, make adjustments, and likely play better in Game 2. The beauty of where the Rockets are at is that they possess room for improvement as well. If they keep pounding OKC in the paint and continue grabbing boards then they should dominate this series. It was a pleasant surprise to see Houston win the rebound margin on a +14 note, and this only gives them more room to breathe if they fire away from 3. It's important to note that this inside-out attack is more conducive to playoff basketball success, so maybe we are seeing a new shade of red from the Rockets.
4. What was the most notable moment from Game 1?
ER: Everyone else is probably going to say the Adams screen/aftermath, so I'm going to go contrarian and say the end of the first quarter, when James Harden started attacking the basket without thinking about taking a jumper. Everything offensively flowed from that decision after a subpar offensive first quarter from the Beard. Once he started attacking, the Thunder had response.
CA: Pat Beverley getting blindsided by Steven Adams. First off, Adams clearly put his shoulder into that screen, which, yknow, not cool, dude. But second, the response to that sequence could've gone either way. Roberson hit another three at the end of that play. The momentum was not in Houston's favor, and if Beverley missed either of his next two threes, I sincerely doubt the Rockets 30-piece the Thunder.
XE: The Adams (cheap shot) pick. It fired up Beverley, who was clearly shaken by the attempt to hurt him, but (fortunately) responded with in typical Patrick Beverley fashion, with clutch shots. The Rockets were fired up after that and a richly deserved rout was on.
On that pick, while I’d call it borderline legal, it was a blindside shot in the open court, and intended to be so. Some have said that the fault on the takeout attempt lies with Beverley’s teammates, for not warning him in time. This is as specious an argument as I’ve ever read. It’s like saying its the fault of your friends for not warning you in time that your house was being robbed, not the burglar’s.
Of course teammates do, and should, call out picks, but as always, context is important. Picks set commonly, to facilitate plays, rather than, say, injure someone, are set usually in the half court offense. Picks are common as mice in the half court, and rare as a blue moon at mid court. When you see them, they are usually just a guy sidling into another guy’s way to slow him down, with little contact.
A hard pick set at mid-court, with teammates following their own men down the court, is a different matter. How teammates could call this out, so far from the play, in a way Beverley could hear over crowd noise eludes me.
This pick was attempt to at least shake up, if not injure, Patrick Beverley who was to that point simply dominating the putative MVP of the NBA. What I want to know is why such a supposedly superior player as Westbrook would need his Kiwi goon to drop a cheap shot for him? (Yes, Adams is back to being a goon, you act like a goon, you’re a goon.) You’d think Russell welcome the challenge of Pat Beverley. Maybe Westbrook’s friend, The Ball, will have some advice for him.
MC: Harden's first half run. He started 1 - 7 from the floor and OKC was leading Houston at several points. The Beard stopped shooting threes and started going to the rack going 7 - 9 from the floor to keep OKC from blowing the doors open. He held Houston in the game which let them rip the game apart in the third quarter.
AS: Houston's team effort in guarding Russell Westbrook deserves applause. OKC's superstar looked perturbed multiple times in the game and never seemed to find his zone. Meanwhile, Harden went Basketball 101 for struggling shooters by attacking the basket to regain his rhythm. The help defense on Westbrook was remarkable and the Rockets backed Beverley up every step of the way on the defensive end of the court. When Westbrook had to dish the rock his teammates looked hesitant to shoot, even when the shot was wide open. It's so blatantly obvious but it bears repeating; as Westbrook goes, so go the Thunder. Cheers to every member of the Houston Rockets for cramping his style on the court in Game 1. No need to cramp his style off the court, because it is pretty awful. We can all agree on that, right?
5. Are the Rockets playing with a chip on their shoulder because they are playing OKC?
ER: This year's Rockets always have a chip on their shoulder. I think they're more intense about this series than maybe they would have been against the Grizzlies, but there's a storyline for the Rockets against almost every West team. I think the Thunder are one of the few teams that can match them, chip-for-chip, which is what makes this series so enthralling.
CA: I think the Rockets are just excited to play in playoff games they want to win again. Remember how unexcited they all were when Harden hit that game winner against GSW? Ya, I don't think that's happening this year.
XE: I think the players are as, if not more aware, of the MVP voting. The announcers can pretend it’s a mystery all they like, the players at the very least know what we know. So, yes, there’s a chip, and I expect that will continue. Whether we see a “Hakeem vs Robinson MVP” level of thrashing remains to be seen, but it’s certainly on the table.
MC: They're going to play with a chip on their shoulder no matter who the opponent. James Harden was denied the MVP award and they're being counted out... again.
AS: There is no question that the Rockets are taking this match-up personally, and I think the Thunder are paddling in the same boat. You could sense that Harden and Westbrook were both pressing in the 1st quarter, which makes sense given the personal stakes in their fight for MVP, and I think that both teams are rallying around their alpha dogs. As poorly as the Rockets shot from behind the arc, Game 1 was still one of the most complete team performances we have seen from H-Town all season. If anything, the screen Adams laid on Beverley only galvanized the team, and you're always inspired when you see a teammate bounce back up after a big hit with intensity. In all honesty, if the Rockets win this series I wouldn't be surprised to see them make the Western Conference Finals simply because their next assumes opponent, San Antonio, is a rival a well. If they were to win that series, and this is definitely getting the cart ahead of the horse, then they would likely face Golden State. Let's call this the "Fury Road" Tour. We are awaited in Valhalla!