|2012-2013 NBA PLAYOFFS!|
|May 3rd, 2013|
|The Toyota Center, Houston, Texas|
|8:30 PM Central Daylight Time|
|Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Houston|
|WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), SportsTalk 790|
|The Dream ShakeRed94|
|Playoffs: Game 1, Game 2, Game 3, Game 4, Game 5 (Thunder Lead Series 3-2)|
|Regular Season Series: Nov 28th, Dec 29th, Feb 20 (Thunder won Season Series 2-1)|
|Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Jeremy Lin (Probable)|
|Reggie Jackson||PG||Patrick Beverley|
|Thabo Sefolosha||SG||James Harden|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Francisco Garcia|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Chandler Parsons|
|Kendrick Perkins||C||Omer Asik|
Man, I'm still not over how bad things are looking right now. The Thunder still have a 3-2 series lead, and two more chances to close out this series. But boy, if tonight isn't a must win, then I don't know what is. A Game 7? Yeah, that's probably right.
Still, tonight's game adds to the intrigue. As I've mentioned in my article about Coach Brooks and my response to Zach Lowe's article, the name of the game tonight will be defense. The Thunder have finally gotten ball movement going and pretty much figured out how to make the offense sustainable, but the defense has fallen into complete disarray.
If you haven't read the articles, the Thunder have basically abandoned the defensive strategy that they've pursued all year. They've basically abandoned big lineups, playing a small game the majority of the time. Not only that, the Thunder have also abandoned their defensive pressure, making them rely on individual matchups. And in a defense where Derek Fisher and Kevin Martin are getting regular minutes and regularly switching matchups, this can turn into a bit of a problem.
But, there is hope for tonight's game. According to Darnell Mayberry, we will be seeing more Nick Collison tonight. He's been seeing less and less time on the floor as the series has gone on, culminating in him playing only 6 and a half minutes this Wednesday. Collison, was, admittedly, pretty terrible in games 3 and 4, because he was asked to handle the ball a lot more and take shots he wasn't capable of taking. He saw a huge recovery in Game 5 though, and was pretty irrationally benched after a very impressive second quarter performance.
Still, we're not hoping to see Nick Collison on his own tonight. A lot of us have waited for the return of the Collison/Ibaka lineup, which has been basically absent for this entire series. Collison isn't a fantastic help defender (in fact, he's probably worse than Perkins at stopping shots near the rim), but his positioning is a lot better on the floor, making him a better option for the overall defensive strategy. He also might help Serge Ibaka's game by clearing out space in the post for offensive rebounds or open dunks.
DeAndre Liggins has been an interesting addition for the Thunder in Westbrook's absence. He's seen his minutes gradually increase over the last three games, and he's done an admirable job as a help defender. He's also really good at sneaking down into the post for easy baskets on off-ball cuts. The downside to him is that he racks up fouls too quickly, and that his shot is less consistent than Reggie Jackson's. In any case, he provides much needed defense, and hopefully he can be part of a defensive pressure revival tonight.
All eyes will be on Kevin Martin, who has been absolutely dreadful this series. He's shooting 30%, and reached rock bottom in Game 5 when he went a mere 1 of 10 from the floor. This wouldn't be too much of a problem for a normal player, but Kevin Martin brings virtually nothing to the table but offense. So when he's not producing, he's basically a huge gaping hole in the Thunder's scheme.
On the Rockets' side of things, Game 5 saw the revival of James Harden, who has struggled all series. If the Thunder go back to pressuring him, he should start struggling again, but if they let him isolate against Thabo, he'll probably continue his good production. The Rockets will also see the return of Jeremy Lin tonight, but he will be playing off of the bench. I think that Lin might be used as a quasi-shooting guard tonight, because he's so good at iso plays and because the Thunder weren't pressuring last night. Additionally, Aaron Brooks performed admirably in the backup point guard spot, so I don't see the Rockets taking minutes away from him.
All in all, tonight's game will probably, once again, come down to the wire. I could see both sides potentially breaking it open. Houston could finally get production from Lin and continue their good production from Harden, which would probably seal the deal for them. On the other hand, the Thunder could actually defend the paint, win the rebounding battle, or see a revival of Kevin Martin, any of which could turn the tide heavily in their favor. Still, after the last three games, I'm very skeptical of the Thunder's ability to win. Regardless, I'm predicting a Thunder victory, because I still think that they can dominate if they're tooled in the right way. I just hope Scott Brooks knows how to do so.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 110, Houston Rockets 103.
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