Game 3 Pregame Primer: Thunder vs. Rockets (0-2)natashapanchal.com / @marcstreeter / @pics.and.roll

Game 3 Pregame Primer: Thunder vs. Rockets (0-2)

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ESPN preview

Tip-off:

5:00 PM @ The Field House, ? ESPN

Projected starting lineups:

Oklahoma CityHouston
PG: Chris PaulPG: James Harden
SG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Lu DortSF: Jeff Green
PF: Danilo Gallinari PF: P.J. Tucker
C: Steven AdamsC: Robert Covington

3 Big Things:

Paging Chris Paul. You know when you were a kid and you went bowling and you got to use bumpers and you were f—— awesome? Until, that is, you graduated to no bumpers and your confidence disappeared faster than that first gutter ball? 

Well, in this metaphor Chris Paul is the Thunder’s bumpers. When he arrived in OKC, fans weren’t exactly enthused. We’d all seen Russell Westbrook chuck bowling balls halfway down the lane for a decade, why would we want guardrails now? But slowly, methodically, Paul won Thunder fans over with his leadership and masterful control on the court. Last-second shots, timely sideline chats, CP3 was a human bumper all year, guiding his team frame by frame.

Which is why, dear reader, it’s been ~incredibly~ distressing to see Paul suddenly not in control. In Game 1 against the Rockets, he nearly put up a triple-double, but the team was desperately in need of direction it never seemed to receive. In Game 2, the wheels came off for CP3 — he was, um, a -36 –– despite positive contributions across the rest of the roster. 

For the Thunder to make a comeback, or even make the series respectable, Paul has to be the steady hand atop this offense once again. He’s got to be the bumpers.

Movie Magic. You heard it, right? The moment Jeff Van Gundy fell hopelessly in love with Luguentz Dort. “The makings of an All-Defensive Team player” were words Van Gundy actually lavished onto the undrafted rookie stopper in his playoff debut. 

Honestly, it may not have been hyperbole. Listed as doubtful coming into Game 2, Dort overcame his balky knee and turned in a star performance, completely shutting down one James Edward Harden Jr. (5-16 FG, 2-11 from 3PT). It was like watching a young Al Pacino overshadow Marlon Brando, like watching a fresh-faced Leonardo DiCaprio become an overnight heartthrob with Titanic.

It may not be fair, but the Thunder, down 2-0, need that version of Dort for the remainder of the series. He’s proven to be their best shot against the league’s top scorer, and if he’s not up to the challenge, well, the Thunder are very likely their own sinking ship.

Not That Kind of Social Distancing! Raise your hand if P.J. Tucker has caused you to curse this week. It’s understandable if you did; he’s a fairly straight-forward player, the sort that feels more pesky than good. He’ll muck things up on defense and set up in the corner like he’s punching a time clock. But I’ll tell you one thing, man knows how to punch a time clock.

This season, Tucker shot 38.1 percent on 236 corner 3s, 81 more than anyone else in the league, per NBA Advanced Stats. It’s his shot. So why have the Thunder been so bad at defending it?

Through two games, Tucker is 7 of 12 from the perimeter, 6 of 10 from the corners. Small sample size but a high percentage, which makes sense when you consider how open he’s been when taking them: of his 12 attempts, 11 have been “wide open,” an NBA Advanced Stats designation when no defender is within six feet of the shooter. Six. Feet.

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