Round 1 of the playoffs did not exactly go well for the Oklahoma City Thunder as they dropped a 123-108 decision to the Houston Rockets. The Thunder got off to a cold start on offense, and they couldn’t keep Houston from knocking down threes, so now they must regroup and make adjustments ahead of Game 2.
The Thunder struggled defensively tonight as they missed their best defender in rookie Luguentz Dort. OKC relies on the energy that Dort brings to the defensive side of the ball, and without his presence, the Thunder had no communication or urgency on defense. Worst of all, they had no answer for James Harden.
Houston knocked down a couple of deep shots early in this game, which caused the Thunder to be fearful of playing help defense. So many different guys were hitting shots for the Rockets that no one felt like he could leave his man to help. This allowed James Harden and the Rockets to dominate the paint. Despite being much smaller than OKC, Houston scored 44 points down low.
Although the problem for OKC might have been in the paint, it all starts at the perimeter. Moving forward in this series, the Thunder needs to do a much better job at keeping their man in front. You cannot allow a great 3-point shooting team to beat you off of the dribble.
I can’t express how important it is to get Luguentz Dort back on the court for the Thunder. Terrance Ferguson proved to be far too small to guard Harden. Hamidou Diallo simply doesn’t possess the defensive skill to guard a player like that. Andre Roberson seemed way too slow to keep up with the speed of Harden. If OKC can’t figure things out defensively, it’s going to be a long series.
What Happened to the Offense?
The Thunder could not find the bottom of the net for anything in Game 1 against the Rockets. After missing several layups early in the matchup, OKC quickly started standing around and settling for bad jump shots.
As a team, the Thunder made 44% of their field goal attempts, including 13-of-35 (37.1%) from downtown. The problem with the three-point makes was that they came way too late in the game. Sometimes shots simply don’t fall, but the real issue with the offense was OKC got away from what they’re actually good at.
The Thunder is not a fantastic three-point shooting team. They’re average at best. OKC’s offense is best when they set up the half-court offense, set screens, and move the ball around. There wasn’t enough of that tonight, and the results were not good. Fix that ahead of Game 2, and they will be in a much better place to pick up a win.
Shai Comes Up Short
Game 1 was supposed to be a coming out party for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The budding star has been teetering on the brink of greatness, and great players bring their best in the playoffs. That was not the case tonight for SGA.
Scoring just 9 points on 2-of-8 (25.0%) from the field, Gilgeous-Alexander had one of his worst games of the season. The Thunder needs so much more from SGA on the offensive end, but that wasn’t the only area where he struggled. He looked lackadaisical and disinterested on defense, and he hurt OKC more than he helped for the majority of the game.
Thankfully, this is a 7-game series, and this was just one game. Shai still has plenty of time in the next few days to prove that he’s an elite player. He needs to take the next day and a half and get in the right head space to play against a very tough Houston Rockets team.
Thunder Player of the Game
After not playing all that well during the seeding games, tonight’s Thunder Player of the Game is Danilo Gallinari.
Scoring a team-high 29 points, Gallinari was one of the few bright spots for OKC’s offense tonight. The veteran knocked down 9-of-17 (52.9%) from the field, including 2-of-5 (40.0%) from downtown, and 9-of-9 (100.0%) from the free throw line. Gallinari added 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block to his stat line, but his efforts were not enough to help the Thunder to a win.
On to the Next One
Game 1 is in the books, and with the shortened playoff schedule, the Thunder gets just one day off to get ready for Game 2 on Thursday. OKC has plenty of adjustments to make, but not a lot of time to do it, so they need to get to it quickly.
Tip-off for Game 2 against the Rockets on Thursday is 2:30 PM CT, and it will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.