The Thunder wrapped a final practice Saturday before the playoffs begin tomorrow.
And the word is from Scott Brooks that everyone is available to go.
“Everybody participated in practice today so we have our full 15 guys to choose from,” he said.
The Thunder had a few guys nicked up down the stretch with Kendrick Perkins (hamstring) and Kevin Martin (back) sitting the final two games. Nick Collison and Kevin Durant also sat the Thunder’s last game with “injuries,” but they were really just being held out for rest purposes.
Making sure everyone is ready has obviously been the primary focus in preparing for this series, but after that?
“Transition defense. On misses and makes,” Perk said. “Pick-and-roll defense and basically talk-pointing just the second effort, challenging shots, try not to give them open shots and go from there.”
Said Brooks: “We have a philosophy that we want to make sure that they get no open shots. As many times as we can have five guys in front of their five guys, we feel our defense is pretty solid and sound that we can make them miss.
The Rockets finished the season first in pace, averaging a fairly absurd 96.1 possessions per game. In the three games against OKC this year, the games featured an average of 107.3 possessions per contest. That’s the most possessions per game the Rockets had against any opponent this season, suggesting that not only were the Thunder fine playing Houston’s tempo, the OKC embraced it.
The Thunder did an excellent job defending Houston in the three games, holding them to an offensive rating of just 97.2, well below their season average of 106.7. But the Thunder allowed the Rockets average of 19.3 fast break points per game, up from their season average of 18.6. On the season, OKC allowed opponents an average of 12.5 fast break points a game.
“We have to be able to get back,” Brooks said. “There can’t be any celebrations. It has to be, make the basket and do your job by getting back and helping your teammates on that end of the court.”
The Rockets score in three primary ways: in transition (which includes points in the paint), from the free throw line and on 3-pointers. The Rockets ranked third in paint scoring, second in fast break points, second in 3-pointers made and fourth in free throws attempted.
And those three key almost entirely from James Harden. Whether it’s him that’s doing the fast breaking, free throwing or 3-pointing, or it’s him setting someone else up for it. The Thunder’s gameplan starts with limiting No. 13. It’s no coincidence that in the three meetings this season, two blowout wins for OKC came when Harden shot a combined 9-33.
Perk was asked why the Thunder seemed to shut Harden down so well in the first meeting, where he went just 3-16 from the field. Was it knowing his game, was it trying to send a message? What was it?
“I think it a lot of had to do with pride,” Perk said. “You’re going to lock in.”
The Rockets’ hope in the series really resides squarely inside of that beard though. If Harden can carry them, as he did in Houston’s 122-119 win where he lit OKC up for 46 on 19 shots, then the Rockets can compete. If not, it’s going to be a major challenge for Houston.
Actually Perk summarized that point better: “Obviously with the whole James thing, he’s probably going to want to have a good game, but we don’t want him to have a good game.”
Well, yup, that’s kind of it.
On what issues Houston’s presents: “Just different matchup problems, as far as, that team and like that team led the league in scoring, or was second. They like to space the floor and shoot a lot of 3s. They lead the league in makes after baskets so they getting up and down so we definitely have our hands full. I think communication will be key. Really when you’re on the court with the Rockets, there’s not one guy you’re guarding. It’s just whoever’s open, you gotta rotate. We got to make sure we’re having the first, second and third effort and we’ll be alright.”
On Omer Asik: “He’s solid. He good at what he do. It’s cool.”
On Boston: “It’s sad. But I’m happy it’s over with. Prayers go out to the families and just try and move forward.”
On the importance of Game 1: “Game 1 is very important. It either gives you control of the series, gives you the opportunity to set the tone and see how it’s going to play out.”
On giving Reggie Jackson playoff advice: “Just play man. It’s not the time to go talk to him and mess his head up. Just let him play and let him do what he’s going to do.”
On where he was when Harden was traded and how he found out: “I was at my house. Chilling, watching TV … I talked to James.”