Mirroring a rugged season series, Houston wields a numerically compact, yet decisive 3-1 playoff advantage against Oklahoma City.
And while each mid-April meeting (excluding game one) could have tilted in either teams’ favor, Houston’s +3 margin in its last three outings might as well total +20.
Poised to overwhelm the Rockets during games two and four, the Thunder instead wilted before Houston’s ineluctable fourth-quarter comebacks.
In those affairs, availed by methodical precision, the 55-win Rockets charged past callow OKC during the final stanza, +7.5.
Sunday, as Oklahoma City wagered a tenuous four-point advantage into the fourth, Houston’s veteran guile rendered the Thunder barren before a pensive home crowd.
With 4:11 remaining, and holding a one-possession edge, as Westbrook seemed poised to unleash, Mike D’Antoni elected to deliberately place Andre Roberson on the line.
Isolated, and frustrated, Roberson repeatedly missed uncontested 15-footers to negate his dazzling defensive display.
While exploiting the percentage game, this tactic removed the ball from single-season triple-double leader Westbrook’s hand, and for D’Antoni’s crew, along with a Nene outburst, helped ensure an unequivocal 113-109 swing win.
Now, on the brink, Oklahoma City must claim three straight victories —two away from Chesapeake— to eke into the second-round.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (1-3) vs. HOUSTON ROCKETS (3-1)
- Time: 8 PM ET
- Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
- Broadcast: TNT, FSOK
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Nothing to lose: Down 3-1, and on the road, Oklahoma City’s mantra should be “why not” as they attempt a long-shot comeback.
- Team management: In Roberson’s (42.3% FT, 2nd worst in NBA) defense, Billy Donovan should have removed his late-game liability at the onset of D’Antoni’s obvious ploy. Mistakes like this cannot be repeated as elimination looms.
- Fourth-quarter execution: It hasn’t been there for OKC all series, perhaps tonight can be an exception.
- Bench game: The Thunder’s lone win in this series can be largely attributed to how well their bench performed that night. Conversely, along with other factors, OKC’s game four downfall can be pinned on lackluster reserve play.
- Run Houston off three-point line
- Limit Houston free-throws
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Minutes from an even series, yet now facing an uphill crusade, Oklahoma City must take a one-game approach.
The danger is looking at the work ahead, and not owning the moment.
Tonight, to survive Houston, Oklahoma City must own the moment.
After a master-class fourth quarter to conclude game four, Houston owns three-consecutive opportunities to resign Oklahoma City’s historic campaign.
Tonight, the Rockets faithful will emerge full-force to support this effort.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets Injury Reports and Probable Starting Lineups:
The Oklahoma City Thunder list Semaj Christon (Personal) as day-to-day. 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: +7.5
The oddsmakers envision a painless “gentleman’s sweep” tonight from the heart of Houston.
Meanwhile, though faced with considerable odds, Oklahoma City will battle to keep the season of Westbrook alive, and return home for a chance to extend.