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Rockets wriggle to win, withstanding Thunder 111-98

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OKC refused the gift of a tied series.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Houston Rockets - Game Two
Jeff Green Thanks Harden For Cheap Assists
Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images

The Rockets tried to give this one away in the first half. Bad shooting by two stars kept the game in reach for OKC until a Rockets run in the 4th quarter. In the end the Rockets bore down on defense, and got enough offense, to go up 2-0 in the series. If the Thunder can’t win with Harden and Gordon combining to go 2-21 from three point range, their chances appear slim overall. (edited)

1st Quarter

James Harden and Eric Gordon were a combined 2-21 from 3pt range, with Gordon an astounding 0-10. The Rockets initial effort was flat, and the Rockets got their usual barrage of soft defensive foul calls. Much of this was the Rockets not playing with intensity, and just relying on shooting, but some was plain bad calls. A standout in that department was P.J. Tucker being whistled while standing away from a Thunder player with his hands behind his back. It’s painful to see calls like that when a player is playing bad defense, but Tucker was honestly not defending at all, to attempt to avoid that call.

That complaint aside, it’s nice that the game ended with 37 total free throw attempts, literally less than half of the 76(!) free throws shot in Dallas vs Clippers Game 2.

Rockets won the quarter 35-30.

2nd Quarter

The Rockets shooting deserted them in the second quarter, and OKC kept playing hard, made shots, and hit their free throws. The Rockets, despite missing nearly everything, got a burst of Prophesy Austin Rivers, who for a short stretch (and why wasn’t it longer?) couldn’t miss. His effort, some gritty team defense, and an utter lack of turnovers (zero at the half), kept the Rockets close, despite the team not being able to hit water from their boat.

Historical Note - Has any team in the playoffs had zero turnovers in a half? Probably, but I’d imagine it’s rare.

Thunder won this quarter 29-18 and lead at the half 59-53. The Rockets had to feel fortunate the Thunder didn’t run away with the game given the poor shooting.

3rd Quarter

The Rockets came out with more intensity. I recall a stat where the Rockets have simply been poor, for years, in day games. I am not sure it’s true, but it seems plausible to me, given the games I’ve seen where the Rockets appeared hung over for 11AM CST starts. Add that to the generally poor showings by James Harden in Game 2 of playoff series, and the Rockets might have been in trouble.

These Rockets aren’t quite like previous Rockets. They will defend, and their kind of defense is especially difficult for teams to dribble and pass against. That bodes poorly for OKC.

OKC’s best lineup from this season is putting Chris Paul, Dennis Schroeder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the court at the same time, with (the fundamentally fraudulent) Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams.

Three guards isn’t a trick that will worry the Rockets too much, Moreover, Luguentz Dort has a reputation as a Harden Stopper, and true or not, the Thunder need him defending Harden because they have no one better. Probably they should play those guards, Dort and (a player who’d rather angle for a touch foul than dunk from a foot out at 6’10”) Gallinari at center. It’s not really an advantage, but it is probably their best lineup.

The Rockets continued their bad shooting, but played great defense, and attacked the basket. They won the third 24-19. That’s the sort of a rock fight OKC wants, as they can use their putative clutch ability to win a close, low-scoring game.

Rockets 77 - Thunder 78

4th Quarter

We’d seen the Rockets put the clampdown on OKC in the third, but their offense hadn’t appeared. It finally did, mostly in the form of Jeff Green and Danuel House, wrecking both the OKC offense and defense in a run that got a lead. Some rugged Eric Gordon drives and James Harden finally hitting a step back three (over Dort who’d played him well) to seal the deal.

Rockets won the quarter 34-20 and the game 111-98.

Conclusion

This is the sort of game OKC has to win to have any hope in this series.

The Rockets shot poorly, but shooting isn’t all they can do. They can also defend, and attack the basket. The Thunder have a real problem in that so many of their players are essentially one way guys, offense, or defense. The Rockets really only have two such players, Ben McLemore on offense, and Robert Covington on defense.

So far I’m happy with my series prediction:

I’m predicting Rockets in six, five if Westbrook plays. The Thunder are a good story, a solid team, and The Last of The Midrange Gunfighters. Media tend love teams like that from small markets, talking about them feels like a Good Deed to the coastal writers. They like a bit of grit, as long as it stays somewhere in fly-over country. OKC’s scoring is spread out at about 20 points each for four players. This is good, in that it raises the floor. That team is largely going to always score the same number of points. This is bad, in that the team like that is largely going to score the same number of points. I think that like there’s a high floor for OKC, there’s a lower ceiling. I simply don’t think OKC can score enough, over seven games, to defeat the Rockets. I also think the record against good or bad teams is meaningful. The Thunder, with their consistency and high floor, beat up on bad teams, and lose to good ones. The Rockets, with their inconsistency, beat up on good teams, don’t bring the same effort, and lose to bad ones (though just how bad is Phoenix, really?). That should favor the Rockets in this playoff series. The playoffs are about beating good teams.

Poll

How now?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Rockets Sweep. (4)
    (119 votes)
  • 58%
    Rockets Gentleman’s Sweep. (5)
    (281 votes)
  • 8%
    Rockets in six. (6)
    (40 votes)
  • 0%
    Rockets in seven. (7)
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Thunder in six. (6)
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Thunder in seven. (7)
    (3 votes)
  • 6%
    Mavs in three!
    (31 votes)
480 votes total Vote Now