Thunder can't hold off Rockets. Headed home for Game 3 in OKC Friday night. pic.twitter.com/aMalgrxmlH
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 20, 2017
The Oklahoma City Thunder entered tonight’s playoff game with a sense of urgency, knowing full well the challenge it is to overcome an 0-2 deficit in a first-round series. The Thunder came out with a lot of energy as they jumped out to a 16-4 lead early in the first period before they ended the quarter with a 35-26 lead. Houston battled back in the second, but Oklahoma City did a decent job of maintaining as they entered halftime still up 68-62.
The Thunder came out in the third quarter not satisfied by any means as they fought back and forth with the Rockets before taking a 12-point lead with just under four minutes left in the period. Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, Houston called a timeout with 2:21 to go in the third, which helped them go on a 12-3 run to end the quarter in which the Thunder led 89-86. Oklahoma City scored 5 quick points to start the fourth to go up by 8, but the Rockets would go on a 10-0 run to take their first lead of the evening at 96-94 with 8:08 left in the game. The Thunder did everything they could to stay in the game, but the offense went cold, and Houston’s shooting was too much as Oklahoma City dropped Game 2 to the Rockets 111-115.
Russ Starts Hot, Finishes Cold
After having one of his worst games of the season in Game 1, Russell Westbrook came out tonight ready to go home with a win. Through three quarters, he had 36 points shooting 13/25 (52%) from the floor with 11 assists and 9 rebounds. By all means, he was straight up carrying the Thunder, and it was working. Then the fourth quarter hit.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 20, 2017
Houston ended the third quarter on a ridiculous 12-3 run, so Westbrook had to start the fourth quarter in order to stop the bleeding, which effectively took away most of his rest time as the end of the game neared. Without his typical rest, Russ looked tired to finish the game. He shot an abysmal 4/18 (22.2%) from the floor while only adding 2 assists and 1 rebound.
Russ finished the game with 51 points while shooting 17/43 (39.5%) from the floor, including 2/11 (18.2%) from three, and 15/18 (83.3%) from the free throw line, to go along with 13 assists, 10 rebounds, and 4 steals. Westbrook’s 50-point triple-double makes him the first player in NBA postseason history to record such a feat.
— CBS Sports NBA (@CBSSportsNBA) April 20, 2017
It is easy to criticize Westbrook’s awful shooting to end the game, but his teammates did not give him a lot to work with, either. Regardless of who deserves the blame, something has to change as the Thunder head home for Game 3.
Bench Continues to Crumble
Oklahoma City’s second unit continued with their unfortunate trend of disappearing in important games as they posted one of their more forgettable nights of the season. Doug McDermott scored 11 points on 4/5 shooting from the floor, Jerami Grant posted 9 points and 5 rebounds, Enes Kanter scored a measly 4 points, and the other four members of the Thunder bench scored a giant goose egg.
Not only did the Thunder bench score only 24 points, but Houston’s bench, made up of only Eric Gordon, Lou Williams, and Nene, put up 50 points. Oklahoma City’s backups finished at a horrendous -64, while Houston’s bench was +41. Part of the problem with the Thunder’s second unit is that seven players saw playtime off the bench, which is far too many for the playoffs. Billy Donovan needs to tighten up his rotations and choose carefully who will actually see the floor.
Game 3 In OKC
While many people will want to call this series over, the Rockets only have 2 of the 4 wins needed to move on to the second round. Obviously, the Thunder would much rather have stolen tonight’s game to effectively give them homecourt advantage the rest of the series, but Oklahoma City will have to perform a rare series comeback.
While coming back to win a series when down 0-2 is a rarity in the NBA, it is not impossible, and it is not unfamiliar territory for the Thunder. When Oklahoma City made its Finals run in 2012, the Thunder trailed 0-2 to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals before winning the next four games to take the series.
The Thunder lost the game in the fourth quarter tonight, which means they did something right for the better part of the first three periods. If Oklahoma City can build on the initial success of tonight’s game, they will put themselves in a good position to pick up a win at home.
Game 3 is set for Friday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City and will tip-off at 8:30 PM CT. The game will be televised on ESPN, and it will be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @thethunderguys on Twitter and Instagram.