Rob Mahoney of SI.com on Houston’s chances of upsetting OKC: “All of which leaves the Rockets entirely too much offensive freedom and access to too many quality shots. What’s interesting, though: When operating in smaller sets, things aren’t so different for Oklahoma City’s offense working against Houston’s defense. Omer Asik is asked to cover an absurd amount of space and help with incredible frequency, all of which should work to the Thunder’s favor as they look to score against a pretty mediocre defensive team. We saw some of that in play in Game 5 as Oklahoma City finally grasped that the extra wrap-around/dump pass would be there on most every drive after drawing Asik’s rotation, but the Thunder are held back by having worse shooters lining the perimeter and fewer dynamic offensive players overall. The Thunder are a team built to sustain by way of Westbrook and Durant, and with one out for the postseason, Oklahoma City is very clearly vulnerable. Yet with Durant still in the fold, the Thunder maintain the edge.”
Darnell Mayberry on Serge Ibaka: “Ibaka is not a post-up player. It’s not his strength, and the Thunder has wisely resisted the temptation of force-feeding Ibaka on the low block. Despite showing tremendous strides in his offensive game, Ibaka still struggles to catch the ball cleanly and is still snake-bitten by turnovers. His passing skills out of the post, meanwhile, are lacking, which prevents him from really making defenses pay.”
Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com: “If you’re looking for a Cinderella, the shoe fits in Houston. That’s because the Rockets employ the standard blueprint for upsets: offense with ultra-high variance. No one knew what to make of the Rockets this season because, thanks to their 3-point addiction, you didn’t know what you were going to get from night to night. For an underdog in a seven-game series, that unpredictability can be a huge asset. Among the 272 playoff teams since 1996-97, this Rockets squad posted the third-highest variance in their offensive rating during the regular season. In other words, they were either remarkably good or dreadfully awful. And that pretty much tells the tale of the series. In the first three games, the Rockets shot a miserable 27.8 percent from downtown on an average of 36 attempts — all losses. In the most recent two games, they looked like a high-powered machine, shooting lights out from deep (41.9 percent). Surprise, surprise: They won those two games. Eight-seeds that are consistently mediocre don’t get very far, but throw some variance into the mix and David has the potential to beat Goliath — especially when Goliath has suffered a gaping wound. The Russell Westbrook injury makes OKC extremely vulnerable, and there are signs that it has already maniacally smashed the panic button.”
Zach Lowe of Grantland: “But the Thunder aren’t in trouble against the Rockets because their offense is sputtering. They’re in trouble because their defense, much improved during the regular season, has fallen apart against Houston’s small-ball, spread-the-floor attack. Since its blowout win in Game 1, Oklahoma City has allowed 105.9 points per 100 possessions, and that number has shot up to just more than 107 in three games without Westbrook, per NBA.com. That’s Bobcats/Kings territory, and though Houston ranked among the league’s half-dozen best offenses all season, it’s concerning that an allegedly championship-level defense playing with postseason focus hasn’t managed to drag that offense down a level or two.”
Chad Ford’s big board has Dario Saric at 12, Kelly Olynyk at 13, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at 14, Gorgui Deng at 15 and Rudy Gobert at 16.
Mayberry on adjustments: “Contrary to popular belief, Kendrick Perkins has value in this series. He’s the only big man the Thunder has who can combat Rockets center Omer Asik. Perkins, for the most part, has helped keep Asik off the boards, out of the paint as a put-back machine and quiet as a roller to the basket. Asik is averaging fewer points, rebounds and blocked shots while Perkins is on the court, according to NBA.com/stats, as well as shooting a lower percentage.”
Ethan Sherwood Strauss in a 5-on-5 on Hack-a-Turk: “As ESPN stats whiz Alok Pattani points out, such a strategy would only make sense if Asik were a 45 percent free throw shooter or worse. The big man shot 56 percent on freebies this season, well above that threshold. There just wasn’t a firm logical basis for what Scott Brooks did. It conveyed a lack of trust in his defense while not helping Oklahoma City in any tangible way. Awful move.”
Royce Webb of ESPN.com on the hack strategy: “So it’s not their fault. They never had a real chance. They never had a real chance at a thriller of a comeback win. They never had a chance to do the thing they’ve trained their entire lives to do. They didn’t even get 48 minutes to show fans watching in the arena and on TNT and around the world that they could win Game 5 on talent. How many times will we get to see Kevin Durant try to lead a series-clinching comeback win in the final five minutes of a nationally televised Game 5? Not many, and that rare opportunity Wednesday night was taken from us, and from him. With OKC stopping the clock and letting Houston set up its defense, Durant didn’t score a single point in the fourth quarter.”