In the era of immediate takes, the small sample size of the playoffs can lead to some really wild outliers and narrative busters.
After Game 1, the questions were about how the Oklahoma City Thunder could adjust to Houston. The talk everywhere (including in this here preview section) centered on OKC’s ability to play small and defend Houston’s bevy of scorers and wings. Was it time for Steven Adams to sit? Was Lu Dort really the answer for the Thunder? Could Mike D’Antoni adjust to OKC’s adjustments on the fly?
There was one big question left under the surface in my opinion, and that was regarding Houston’s three-point shooting. We talked about how Houston shot 23% from deep in the regular season against the Thunder and that James Harden and Eric Gordon combined to shoot under 15% in those games. So after Game 1, where the Rockets shot 38.5% from three and the Harden/Gordon duo shot 42%, the question became “Between the regular season and playoff meeting, which was the outlier?”
The Rockets even busted that line of thinking in Game 2. Houston shot a more pedestrian 33% from three and Harden (hounded by Dort) and EG (hounded by missed shots) combined to go 2-21 (9.5%) from triple territory. And the Rockets still won. So the outlier question goes out the window.
Houston’s reliance (sometimes over-reliance) on the three ball means that it’s going to be unlikely for them to ever sweep a series. In fact, the Rockets have not swept an opponent in the Harden Era, and I doubt that will change here.
But you have to wonder how much more OKC can throw at Houston. They shut down Harden (as much as Harden can be shut down), forced an 0-10 night from deep for Gordon, and still lost by double digits. Maybe they can hope that Houston’s supporting cast cannot sustain this level of production, but after two games it appears that Houston’s rotation is superior to the Thunder’s. If Billy Donovan has an ace up his sleeve, he has to procure it now.
The biggest benefit for Houston is that the series is not shifting to OKC for Games 3 and 4. A desperate Thunder squad being helped along by a raucous Chesapeake Energy Arena is a recipe for disaster. Russ’s return game earlier this year showed us that. This is OKC’s last chance to make this a series, so expect them to come out focused and intense.
Tip-off is at 5pm CT on AT&T SportsNet Soutwest and ESPN