Thunder (2-0, 0-0 road) vs. Rockets (0-2, 0-0 home)
View from the enemy: Red 94
All playoff games are important and being up 2-0, the Thunder have a cushion. But I think Game 3 could be the biggest of the series for a lot of reasons. Mostly for the mental reasons. Dealing with the injury to Westbrook is tough and the Thunder can either win tonight and prove right away they can be fine, or they can only amplify the doubt that’s festering since the news broke.
A loss tonight means Game 4 is the all important game, and means the Thunder would have to return to Houston for a Game 6. Before Westbrook’s injury, a sweep was the primary goal, the expectation. Now, taking one of two and having the opportunity to finish things in front of a rabid home crowd is the mission.
Three Big Things
1. Reggie Jackson. He’s going to battle some tough inner thoughts, but he has to fight the urge to try and be Russell Westbrook. Don’t mimic his game. Just play yours. Jackson can’t expect to produce a 25-8-7 game like Westbrook would. But something like 14-5-5 would probably be good enough. He’s got to stick to his plan, play his game and not try and do too much. Don’t forget Reggie: You have Kevin Durant.
2. KD. This is the first time since Texas that Kevin Durant has played a game that counts without Russell Westbrook. That includes the 2010 World Championship and the 2012 Olympics. How does Durant respond? My fear is that KD tries to do too much, tries to fill the void all on his own. Really, he just has to be himself, but maybe with a little more offensive playmaking responsibility. I don’t think Durant needs to shoot 25 or 30 times tonight. Playing his game and still maintaining the trust in his teammates is most important.
3. Bench work. Overlooked in this Westbrook ordeal is that the Thunder bench just took a massive blow. Jackson was one of the steadying influences on the second unit and can produce a quality spark. Now he’s in the starting five and Scott Brooks is probably going to rely on Derek Fisher more. The Thunder’s second unit needs more assertiveness from Kevin Martin. And maybe from someone else. Could this be a chance for Jeremy Lamb or DeAndre Liggins to see some minutes?
Tip at 8:30 CT. Go Russ.