Rockets’ Depth Becoming Too Much for Thunder
The Houston Rockets took a commanding 2-0 series lead last night against the Oklahoma City Thunder behind James Harden’s 35 points. The Thunder led for most the game, but Russell Westbrook’s 4 for 18 shooting in the fourth quarter allowed the Rockets to erase a double-digit lead. Russell Westbrook proved Wednesday night why many people have referred to the Thunder as a one man wrecking crew. Despite the loss, Westbrook achieved the highest points scored while recording a triple double in the playoffs with 51 points 10 rebounds and 13 assists. The two MVP candidates traded blow for blow during this matchup, but the secondary scoring of the Rockets proved to be too much for the Thunder to overcome.
When examining this matchup, it is crucial to look at the box score to see the difference between the two superstar’s supporting casts. Both teams had four players to reach double figures in scoring, but the timing in which these baskets came clearly went in favor of the Rockets. Russell Westbrook and James Harden were often double teamed throughout the night and were forced to kick it out to teammates for an open shot. The difference last night was that Harden’s teammates made their shots and Westbrook’s did not.
Some people would argue that Russell Westbrook does not want the help of his teammates and insists on having the ball in his hands every offensive possession. To that point, I say to look at his teammates field goal percentage. Oklahoma City acquired Victor Oladipo this past offseason expects better production from their guard position but didn’t see much help from him in 41 minutes of work. Despite being an average shooter, 4 for 14 from the floor scoring just 11 points will not get it done in the postseason. One would expect a bit more production of a former second overall pick.
One player to expect a bigger role heading into game three for the Thunder is former Creighton Blue Jay Doug McDermott. McDermott saw just 13 minutes of action Wednesday night, but scored 11 points and went 3 for 4 from beyond the arc. Giving him an extended role off the bench may lead to better production for Westbrook and the Thunder.
Unlike Russell Westbrook, James Harden didn’t feel the weight of the team on his shoulders last night due to proficient scoring from his teammates. James Harden took 26 fewer shots than Westbrook and could rest for longer periods of time because of the success of the Rockets’ bench. Eric Gordon led the way for the Rockets with 22 points off the bench including a 3 within the final minutes to essentially put the game way for Houston. Harden’s ability to drive to the basket and force the officials to call fouls opens opportunities for players like Gordon and Lou Williams to knock down shots on the outside.
Lou Williams was another surprise contributor in the Rockets win last night. Williams came off the bench for 21 minutes and scored 21 points on 8 of 14 from the field. He has always been a guy to come off the bench and give a spark to the offense that the starters may have been lacking. If Williams can hover around the 15 PPG he averaged during the regular season, then the Rockets will find themselves in good shape heading into Game 3. The Rocket’s may have only played eight players in Wednesday’s win, but they seem to manage each player’s minutes well enough to keep them fresh throughout the game.
The Rockets have placed themselves in good position heading into Game 3 in Oklahoma City up 2-0. Overcoming an early deficit in Game 2 will give the Rockets confidence heading into Game 3 at OKC. With James Harden doing what he has done all season long and receiving support from his teammates, the Oklahoma City Thunder look to be in big trouble. Russell Westbrook can put up 50 point games for the remainder of the series, but without secondary scoring, the Thunder may find this series to be over much faster than they expected.