The first game of the playoffs took place for Oklahoma City tonight in enemy territory in Houston. The Rockets took an early advantage, but the Thunder quickly fought back and took the lead in the middle of the first quarter. The game went back and forth several times throughout the quarter, but the Thunder held a small lead after the first.
Oklahoma City should have had a larger lead, but they allowed way too many second chance points. After failing to make the necessary adjustments, the Rockets took full advantage. The Thunder did a good job at keeping James Harden from getting hot from beyond the arc, but they allowed him to get going by giving up easy layups in the paint. Once Houston’s offense got going, the Thunder struggled to keep up with the pace. The Rockets ended up having a five point lead at halftime.
The third quarter slumps continued for the Thunder tonight, as Houston opened up a fifteen point lead. Several things went wrong for Oklahoma City, but most notably was the poor shooting on offense. The Rockets went on a 9-0 run during the quarter, and the Thunder went several minutes without a made basket. The game started moving at a pace that was too fast for the Thunder, and they couldn’t seem to slow the game down and get quality looks on offense. Things only got worse in the fourth quarter for OKC, as Houston increased their lead. Guys simply weren’t hitting shots and the team couldn’t get stops on the other end of the floor, which lead to an easy win in game one for the Rockets.
Rockets Dominate The Paint
Rebounding and controlling the paint are two things that this Thunder team usually does extremely well. Coming into this game, everyone expected the Thunder to dominate the inside, and the Rockets would dominate the perimeter. However, Houston dominated the paint and played better from beyond the arc. These two things are never good for a team that is not good enough to win a game without controlling one or the other.
The Rockets seemed to be grabbing an offensive rebound almost every other trip down the floor, which led to a large amount of second chance points. Houston tallied up a total of 31 second chance points, as opposed to the 4 that the Thunder recorded. As a team that struggles on defense as it is, it certainly doesn’t help to allow a team second chances. The second chances led to multiple three point shots and several easy dunks for Houston. This is an area that the Thunder must improve on before heading into game two on Wednesday.
Oklahoma City also struggled defending the paint. I think the team was focused on shutting down the Rockets from the outside, which opened up the inside. The Rockets kept forcing the Thunder into situations where they had to switch on defense. This allowed Harden to be guarded by Steven Adams or another big man for OKC, which obviously didn’t end well. Look for Billy Donovan to make major adjustments to the defensive scheme before the next game.
Careless On Offense
The struggles went far beyond just the defensive side of the ball for the Thunder. The team struggled throughout the game to score. It seemed like the Oklahoma City offense was always a step behind that of Houston’s. The team shot a very poor 37% from the floor tonight. It’s hard to win a game when you shoot that low of a percentage and your opponent shoots nearly 50%. Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo shot a combined 7-35 on the night. When a team relies on two players as much as the Thunder does, it severely hurts when they have a night like this.
The team seemed to be extremely careless with the ball throughout the game. Whether it was in transition or running a set on offense, the passing was just not there tonight. The Thunder finished the game with 15 turnovers, which is an amount that must decrease for the remainder of this series. I expect that Billy D will have the team ready to be much sharper with the ball on Wednesday night, and to have a lot better shot selection.
The Thunder will be back in action for game two of this series against the Rockets on Wednesday night. Now that the youngsters for Oklahoma City have their first playoff game under their belt, the team should be ready to bounce back for game two, which is a must win for this team. The game will be in Houston again, and it will start at 7:00 PM CST. It will be televised on TNT and FSOK, and will be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Hopefully we will see more of this on Wednesday night:
Article written by Craig Hofeld. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.