Game 4 of the Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder series saw Houston blow a double-digit lead allowing the Thunder to hang around and play, well exactly the kind of game they like to play. Choppy, sloppy, and down to the wire. Westbrook’s absence was felt acutely as Harden carried what has become a familiar look of fatigue down the stretch. It would be four days before the two teams would meet again, and with the series tied 2-2, the Rockets would respond big time. Outscoring the Thunder by 19 in the third quarter on their way to a blowout 114-80 victory.
Harden was a model of efficiency scoring 31 points on 15 shots while only having to play 28 minutes. The game was also shaped by OKC’s most effective offensive player Dennis Schroder’s ejection halfway through the third quarter and the Rocket’s decision to fully commit to their pickup 101 defensive strategy of completely ignoring Lu Dort. Here are a few things to look for heading into Monday’s potential series-clinching game 6.
The Lu Dort Conundrum.
On the whole, the bubble has been kind to Lu Dort. He has through pure effort and determination gone from undrafted rookie to contributing rotation player on a playoff team, receiving praise for his stellar defense on James Harden along the way. Unfortunately, for Lu Dort, the seeds of time continue to grow, and while the early part of the series may be in part remember for Dort’s emergence and effort the later may very well be remembered for his faults. Dort shot an abysmal 3/16 in Game 5 that’s 18.8% including 0-9 on three-pointers and these shots were not contested, they’re were beyond wide open. Dort’s lack of shooting, or ability to make two dribble decisions has the ripple effect allowing the Rockets to clog the lane and help on isolations. The connection between Dort’s inability to draw any defensive attention and Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s combined 2/11 shooting is a direct one.
Look at this early possession, despite not playing a true rim protector the Rockets are able to wall up the paint by abandoning Dort and shrinking the floor.
It will be interesting to see how Donavan addresses this problem in an elimination game. The obvious adjustment seems to be to start his most potent offensive lineup of Cp3/Schroder/Shai/Gallo/Adams. The logic being that if the Thunder are unable to generate enough offense all the defensive brilliance in the world can’t keep em in a game against a Rockets team running on all cylinders. Also, look for the Thunder to use Dort more as an on-ball screener, as a way to involve his defender and search for mismatches in the pick n’ roll game. Exactly when and how Donovan decides to play Dort will be pivotal in forcing a game 7.
Shots at the rim, the method to Houston’s three-point madness.
The Mike D’Antoni Rockets have always been an infamously high variance offense. ” If the Rockets are hitting their threes, they can beat anybody” so says, everyone. This is true, the Houston roulette wheel does seem to spin randomly. Opponents can appear helpless against the sure math of the Rockets three-point onslaught just as the Rockets themselves can appear helpless victims of their own system …7-44, Western Conference Finals, Game 7.
The truth is the Rockets don’t space the floor five out to get open three-pointers, they do it clear the lane. D’Antoni has been clear about this going back to the “7 seconds or less” Suns. The three-pointer is the result of the open lane, it is not the primary objective. This explains Westbrook’s success within the Rockets center-less lineups late in the regular season, as well as the Rockets big victory in Game 5. Points in the paint and fouls drawn by attacking the basket, these are the great stabilizers of the Rockets offense. Excluding a rusty Westbrook in his first game back, here is the shot chart for Houston’s other 4 starters
That’s 19/24 in the paint for Tucker/Gordon/Convington/Harden. With Harden finishing a perfect 7/7. It was not variance behind the three-point line that did in the Thunder in Game 5 it was easy to access to the rim.
Additional points of interest.
Chris Paul in an elimination game. Chris Paul is one of the greatest players of his generation but a long career of big performances has been overshadowed at times by a few memorable playoff failings. Despite continuing to be an All-NBA caliber player this season Paul is likely to be dealt this offseason, it will be compelling to see the level of competitiveness and effort the veteran brings to not only an elimination game but possibly his last game as a member of the OKC Thunder. Paul’s contract may prove to be an albatross for the aging point-god, who with every passing year inch’s closer and closer to becoming another name on the long list of great players to never win it all.
To state the obvious, the Thunder will not win if they cannot get at least an average performance from the apparent heir of the franchise Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
How does Westbrook come out in his second game back from injury? With a chance to eliminate his former team and on the heels of a mediocre performance Saturday, who knows what kind of Westbrook the Thunder could be in store for in Game 6. My hunch is an angry one.
Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder Game 6 Schedule
August 31, 2020, 8:00(CT) on TNT
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