Tip-Off: 8:30 PM CDT
Location: Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City, OK)
Television: ESPN, FSOK
Radio: The Sports Animal
Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game
Despite leading for more than three full quarters in Game 2, the Oklahoma City Thunder could not manage to leave Houston with a win, putting them in a 0-2 hole in the series. The Thunder will do everything they can to get a win tonight and give them a chance to stay in the series. Oklahoma City has a home record of 28-13, but the Thunder has lost 3 of its last 4 games at home, while Houston has an impressive 25-16 record on the road. Fortunately for the Thunder, the Peake is one of the loudest arenas in the league, and playoff games in Oklahoma City are about as loud and wild as they get.
Tonight’s game is as close to a must-win as an actual game that is a must-win. Teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit in a playoff series, but only 4 teams in NBA history have pushed a 3-0 deficit to a Game 7, let alone win the series. Thunder fans will show up ready for tonight, but the question is whether or not Billy Donovan will have his team ready and adjusted to more issues that were obvious in Game 2. Let’s take a look at some areas that need improvement in order to get a win tonight.
- Defend Without Fouling: Oklahoma City played some solid defense at times in Game 2, but what continually got the Thunder intro trouble was sending the Rockets to the free throw line. James Harden alone shot 20 free throws, and as a team, Houston had 37 attempts at the charity stripe. Not only did Houston get a lot of free throw opportunities, but all of the fouling put Steven Adams into foul trouble early in the fourth quarter, which undoubtedly hurt the Thunder’s defensive scheme. Oklahoma City is known for being a physical team, and they need to continue to play that way, but the Thunder has to be able to defend with intensity without giving the Rockets easy opportunities for free points.
- Take (And Make) Good Shots: It’s simple, really. The Thunder could not buy a bucket in Game 1, and after starting off Game 2 hot, the offense stalled in second half, largely due to Russell Westbrook shooting 4/18 in the fourth quarter. Part of the problem is not finishing at the rim. Despite being the better interior team, the Thunder has struggled to take advantage of Houston’s smaller size for any real stretch of time. Another part of the problem is settling for jumpshots. Oklahoma City shot an abysmal 2/11 from three in the fourth quarter in Game 2, and most of those attempts were completely unnecessary. The Thunder cannot rely on jumpshots if they want to beat the Rockets. They have to find a way to score inside, and that means getting Steven Adams and Taj Gibson involved in the offense early.
- Somebody Step Up: For the second game in a row, the Thunder failed to have the type of performance from role player that they need to win a playoff game. Andre Roberson continues to play at a high level on defense while exceeding expectation on offense, but Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams, two guys who received hefty contract extensions at the beginning of the season, have been rendered nearly ineffective in the series so far. Part of the blame falls on Russell Westbrook and his late-game hero-ball antics, but it is hard to blame him for not passing when his teammates cannot score when he sets them up. Regardless of who is to blame, the Thunder needs to play as a team tonight.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.