Tip-Off: 7 PM CDT
Location: Toyota Center (Houston, TX)
Television: TNT, FSOK
Radio: The Sports Animal
Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game
Game 1 in Houston did not go at all like Thunder fans expected. While a blowout was not exactly outside the realm of possibility, the manner in which it came was about as improbable as it comes. Oklahoma City somehow managed to shoot a higher percentage than Houston from behind the arc, yet the Rockets absolutely dominated the Thunder down low. The MVP matchup ended up incredibly one-sided, highlighting James Harden’s skills, while Russell Westbrook looked out of sync and incapable of having the type of impact on the game that he has had consistently throughout the season.
After the game, Westbrook said, “It’s first one to four (games). They won one on their homecourt, and regardless of if you win by 20, two, 40, it doesn’t matter. It’s still 1-0, and we’ve got to come back and be ready to play for the next one.” A lot of NBA experts and fans alike were ready to write off the Thunder prior to tip-off of Game 1, and even more so now, but Oklahoma City knows all too well what it’s like to get dropped hard in the first game of a playoff series. Just last year, the Spurs dominated the Thunder by 32 points in San Antonio in Game 1 of the 2nd Round. Obviously circumstances are different this season, but the point stands: a loss is a loss, and one game is not the end of the series.
While coming away with a series win is going to be an uphill climb, it is not an insurmountable one. Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan made some incredible adjustments in the playoffs last year, so hopefully he is able to get some issues sorted out before tip-off tonight. Let’s take a look at some areas that definitely need to see changes.
- Win the Inside: Two of Oklahoma City’s greatest strengths are rebounding and points in the paint. The Thunder finished the season leading the league in both categories, and these areas looked to be the key to giving them a chance against Houston. Unfortunately, the Rockets outrebounded the Thunder by 15 and scored 24 more points in the paint than Oklahoma City. On top of this, Houston managed a ridiculous 31 second-chance points, more than the Thunder had given up to an opponent in any game during the regular season. The Thunder big men need to establish their dominance early and show that they are not afraid to play physical basketball. Giving up offensive rebounds and second-chance points to Houston cannot happen again, or the Thunder will be well on their way to another blowout on the road.
- Communicate on Defense: For whatever reason, in Game 1 the pick-and-roll looked like an innovative offensive scheme that the Thunder had never seen and had no defensive strategy with which to stop it. Despite holding the Rockets to 30.3% from three, the Houston offense torched the Oklahoma City defense time and time again. During the regular season, Houston won only 4 of 16 games when shooting no better than 30%, but the Rockets were able to score however they wanted against the Thunder, so their inability to knock downs shots from deep was not even an issue. Oklahoma City has to figure out their defensive scheme, and they have to communicate, specifically when Houston is running the pick-and-roll. If James Harden and his teammates are able to continue carving up the Oklahoma City defense, it could mean a fast trip to summer vacation for the Thunder.
- Where’s the Help?: Far too often this season, Westbrook has had to carry the team, and he cannot continue to do so if the Thunder want to win more than a single game in the 1st Round. In Game 1, Victor Oladipo shot 1/12 from the floor, his worst shooting outing of the season. Steven Adams and Enes Kanter combined for a measly 13 points and 8 rebounds. Aside from Andre Roberson having a career-game of 18 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks, Jerami Grant was the only other member of the Thunder to score at least 10 points. Oklahoma City does not stand a chance against the Rockets if some role players do not go the extra mile and perform on a playoff level. Roberson did a fantastic job, but other guys did not even meet their typical averages, let alone stand out in any type of way. Being the youngest team in the playoffs is an excuse that only goes so far, and it is time for some young fellas to step up and get the job done.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.