Game 7 Pregame Primer: Thunder @ Rockets (Series 3-3)natashapanchal.com / @pics.and.roll

Game 7 Pregame Primer: Thunder @ Rockets (Series 3-3)

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ESPN preview

Tip-off:

8:00PM @ ESPN’s World Wide of Sports Complex, 📺 ESPN

Projected starting lineups:

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

3 Big Things:

I’m Sorry, Steve. Look, Steven Adams has been atop my all-time “player I’d most want to grab a beer with” list for the past six years. I say only six years because that’s how long he’s been able to legally drink in America and I’m not trying to get arrested. 

But as the Thunder prepare for a Game 7, it’s time to put feelings aside and be honest about what we’re seeing. And that is that Steven Adams isn’t meeting the unique challenge of the Houston Rockets. 

Through six games, Adams has 15 turnovers, behind only high-usage guards Dennis Schröder and Chris Paul. He has the worst plus-minus rating on the team and, worryingly, is part of a Thunder starting unit that’s getting its doors blown off. Small sample size disclaimers abound, but the numbers do match what we’ve witnessed so far in this series.

I’m not saying he’s Roy Hibbert. He can play, and he’ll likely be a vital part of the Thunder’s game plan again, but throwing him out there for another 30 minutes would be a good way to lose. It’s not his fault, the Rockets are just weird as hell.

How About We Not. I can’t be the only one totally frustrated by OKC’s inability to guard the corner three. Every game, I’m sitting there getting settled in, everything’s fine, and then — bam — P.J. Tucker shoots one from you know exactly where.

As I wrote heading into Game 3, Tucker’s been left to his own devices in this series. Of his 36 three-point attempts, 31 have been “wide open” shots, with no defender closer than six feet, according to NBA Advanced Stats. It should come as absolutely no surprise that he’s shooting 45 percent on those attempts.

He’s far from the only Rocket, though, to be taking advantage of OKC’s leaky perimeter defense. Jeff Green has gone 13 for 30 (43 percent) on “wide open” threes, while Danuel House has shot 11 for 24 (46 percent) with the same ample space. Does that seem sustainable??

Now, Houston’s offense is designed to get these looks. Harden sits at the key with the ball, either steps back or drives, at which point he looks for contact or a teammate in the corner. Rinse, repeat. But considering Harden’s troubles with Dort, does OKC have to play into this so readily? Help less, play more Darius Bazley and Danilo Gallinari at center, and let’s see what happens.

One More Thing About Dort. It’s a small thing, really. But in Games 5 and 6 the Harden Stopper Luguentz Dort found himself on the court, oddly enough, when Harden was on the bench.

In the first quarter of Game 5, Harden sat at the 8-minute mark, while Dort stayed in for two more. Then again in the third quarter, Harden leaves, Dort stays. The rotation for Game 6 got out of whack early as Dort picked up three quick fouls, forcing him to the bench for the entirety of the second quarter. But would you like to know who was out there as Harden hit the pine in the late third and early fourth quarters? Oh, I think you know.

Again, a small thing. But Dort has gone a well-publicized 7 for 38 from beyond the arc, and his FG% has hovered around just 30 percent. Those aren’t numbers you want to see unless you absolutely have to, i.e. when Harden is running the Rockets offense. Mirroring his minutes to Harden’s a little more closely has to be a priority.

Are there other keys to a Thunder victory? Absolutely. Chris Paul will play a role, I would imagine. But this is 3 Big Things, and that’s my three.

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