Rockets vs. Thunder: Game 3 Primer

Much is being made of Russell Westbrook’s collapse in the fourth quarter of Game 2. And while I think that factored into the loss, I point more towards two other factors that caused the Oklahoma City Thunder to lose a 12 point lead with 2:20 left in the 3rd quarter: their inability to run any semblance of offense when Westbrook is on the bench and their pace. For the 41 minutes Westbrook was in the game, the Thunder were a +11 and scored 99 points. In the 7 minutes he was off the floor, the Thunder were a -15 and scored just 12 points.

What makes matters worse is the lack of defense during the minutes Westbrook is off the floor. If you are going to stink offensively when Westbrook is on the bench, fine, as it’s almost understandable. The entire offensive game plan is centered around Westbrook, so whenever he goes out, it’s almost expected the offense will suffer. But the reason guys like Semaj Christon and Jerami Grant see time on the floor, is mostly for defensive purposes. Unfortunately, not only are the Thunder stalling offensively when Westbrook sits, but they’re also hemorrhaging points. And that combination either endangers any lead the Thunder builds up while Westbrook is in the game or causes them to fall further into a hole if they are down when he sits.

Another issue I saw throughout the game was pace. The Thunder play fast out of necessity. With a questionable half court offense, the quicker they can get a shot up, the more likely they will catch the defense out of position. And for three and a half quarters, that formula worked. But the Thunder’s ability to play fast is also their downfall at times. Since they can’t muster an efficient half-court set, they have to play fast all the time. And when Houston finally made their run at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, the Thunder were not able to slow things down and milk the clock during their possessions. Instead, they decided to fight fire with fire, but by that point, the Rockets were thermite hot, while the Thunder were pressing.

In the final 14 minutes of the game, the Thunder used just 13.1 seconds of the 24-second shot clock. While some of that has to do with them being down in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, the Thunder’s inability to use a lot of their shot clock will continue being a problem, especially if they take a lead into the final quarter.

Injuries

  • Oklahoma City – None
  • Houston – Sam Dekker (hand)

3 Big Things

1. The Others

I keep hearing about good Russ/bad Russ. But what about bad team/bad team? Eddie Johnson of the NBA’s SiriusXM radio channel put it this way, “I’d rather Westbrook take a contested jumper with three people on him than Andre Roberson put up a wide open 3.” And here’s the thing: I don’t think that’s meant to be a personal knock on Roberson. He is what he is, even with him playing like his optimal self in these playoffs. But in reality, the only way he gets anything easy is if Westbrook finds him either cutting to the basket or close to the basket.

And that’s the same with a lot of the players surrounding Westbrook in this series. The paint is clogged, so Steven Adams, Taj Gibson, and Enes Kanter are struggling. And by struggling, I don’t mean their FG%. What I mean is they are struggling in their ability to put up more shots.

With the inside clogged, the Thunder are having to become dependent on perimeter shooting. Which is where Victor Oladipo’s struggles in this series have been the most glaring. Oladipo is shooting 5-26 (1-12 from 3) through 2 games. And while his philosophy is, “I’m going to keep shooting”, that is killing the Thunder’s efficiency and their ability to score outside of Westbrook. Doug McDermott played very well in Game 2, but he can be a liability on the defensive end.

When people keep mentioning Westbrook going 4-18 in the fourth quarter, I wonder if they take into account the players around him and how they are playing in this series. I’m all for making the correct basketball play, but if the choice is a Westbrook 3 with two defenders draped on him or an Oladipo contested 2, I’m taking the Westbrook 3, especially with how this series has played out.

2. Enes Kanter

I feel kind of bad for Kanter. Seeing all the gifs of Thunder head coach Billy Donovan mumbling, “Can’t play Kanter,” has to mess with his psyche a little. Now, in the small amount of minutes he gets, he’s trying too hard to make something happen. Kanter is an emotional player. Not, Kevin Garnett-emotional. He’s more introspectively emotional. When he feels he is not contributing to the team, he tends to overthink things, such as pump-faking himself back into the defender or thinking too much on defense. And that is what you are seeing from Kanter in this stretch.

At the same time, remember that players are people too. And Kanter is probably having to deal with issues much different than what his teammates may have to deal with. On April 16th, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan basically got total governmental autonomy in an extremely controversial vote. In 2019, Erdogan will rule uncontested, with the ability to appoint senior officials, judges, and his own cabinet with little oversight. Kanter is an opposer of Erdogan and his regime, and, because of that, has been labeled an outcast by Erdogan and has even been disowned by his own family. With this vote, it likely made it even more difficult for Kanter to not only meld his relationship with his mother country, but also the relationship with his family.

When you combine this and his struggles on the court, you can see why Kanter is currently pressing. Here’s hoping he has a bounce back game at home.

3. Home Court

The first home playoff game since Kevin Durant left. I can’t wait to feel the energy that will be emanating from the stands. It’s what Oladipo beamed about at media day before the season began. This specific moment. Hopefully the comfort level increases for some of the players who have been struggling and they come out more confident in this game. I don’t know why, but I feel like we may get one of those “2010 Game 3 against the Lakers” moments in this game. Whatever happens, it should be fun.

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