Following an embarrassing 31-point game one loss, during game two, resilient Oklahoma City enjoyed progress before wilting late, 115-111.
In that contest, we saw the best, and unfortunately, worst of Russell Westbrook and Head Coach Billy Donovan.
Regarding Donovan, OKC’s second-year sideline General displayed his wares amid a 68-point opening-half jolt —bolstered by ten Westbrook assists.
At intermission, sporting a potent offense, eight OKC players added scoring contributions. After 24 minutes of re-invigoration, Oklahoma City thwarted Houston’s vaunted pick-and-roll on multiple occasions, and held a six-point advantage.
Unfortunately, though, as the third frame crept to conclusion, Donovan’s lineup choices, and Westbrook’s suddenly stagnant, cold hand halted Oklahoma City’s advance.
Throughout the deciding 12 minutes, Houston roared to victory behind the ineluctable scoring wave Harden (7), Eric Gordon (11), and Patrick Beverley (8) provided.
Meanwhile, saddled with foul trouble, along with curious configurations, Oklahoma City ‘s hopes of stealing home court struck out as Westbrook shot 4-18 from the field, and his team 7-of-29 overall.
Now trailing 0-2, tonight, before a resolute Chesapeake gathering, Oklahoma City will either sink or swim in this heated first-round affair.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (0-2) vs. HOUSTON ROCKETS (2-0)
Time: 9:30 PM ET
Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena
TV: ESPN, FSOK
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Ball movement: As evidenced by game two’s rise and fall, Oklahoma City operates much smoother when Westbrook facilitates. Tonight, to win this pivotal swing contest, it behooves Westbrook to trust his teammates.
- Physicality: During Wednesday’s quasi-bounce-back performance, OKC upped their interior intensity. However, it comes as no coincidence that Oklahoma City’s lead deteriorated as Houston’s points-in-the-paint increased.
- Donovan lineups: Against a wall, Coach D. must strategize as well as place his best lineups on the floor for the full 48 vs. Houston. There can be no lapses in judgement opposite the Rockets’ quick-hitting offense.
- Defend the pick-and-roll: Game two’s early defensive adjustments boosted OKC to a 15-point lead. To replicate and sustain this success, Oklahoma City must again run multiple stunts at James Harden.
- Run Houston off three-point line
- Keep Houston off foul-line
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Obviously, as no NBA team has returned from an 0-3 playoff deficit, tonight’s rendezvous is make-or-break for Oklahoma City’s historic season.
With that stated, OKC must feed off its home-energy while playing near-flawless basketball. Further, Russell Westbrook cannot fall victim to the moment.
Again, expect Houston to realize fully what game three vs. OKC entails. James Harden and crew will be locked into elimination mode entering Chesapeake.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORTS
The Oklahoma City Thunder has no injuries to report. The Houston Rockets list Sam Dekker (Hand) as out.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Taj Gibson
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: James Harden
- Shooting Guard: Patrick Beverley
- Small Forward: Trevor Ariza
- Power Forward: Ryan Anderson
- Center: Clint Capela
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: -3
Due to urgency, home-court, and a 28-13 record at Chesapeake Energy, Oklahoma City is a slight favorite to prevail in tonight’s pivotal contest opposite Houston.
Though, Houston enters with a strong 25-16 road ledger.
Tonight’s key matchup pits Billy Donovan vs. Mike D’Antoni. Donovan cannot mishandle basic strategic markers such as playing a -20 Jerami Grant in favor of a +8 Taj Gibson down the stretch again.