The Thunder entered the season with very little expectations. Playoff basketball was a distant ambition. These expectations have changed over the course of the season. As the season went, the Thunder won games and playoff basketball became a reality.
I think that everybody expected the Thunder to compete and contend against any team that the Thunder would face in the first round. This is the reason why the loss in Game 1 was so difficult to stomach.
Oklahoma City played poorly against the Houston Rockets. The Thunder never found a rhythm on offense and it was difficult to accumulate points during the first half of basketball. Oklahoma City only managed to score 52 points in 24 minutes of basketball; this is simply not enough against a high-scoring Houston team.
We all know that the Thunder can beat the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have a higher ceiling than the Thunder but Houston’s style of play has such a high variance. The Rockets’ shooting might go cold for a few games. In the regular season, Houston can withstand lulls from deep as there are enough games for the maths to average out.
It is a different story in the postseason. Ice cold shooting can decide a playoff series and create upsets. The Thunder do not have as high of a ceiling but the Thunder’s style of play is more consistent. Oklahoma City rarely have huge highs and lows.
In Game 1, Oklahoma City were thoroughly outplayed by a Rockets’ team that was missing Russell Westbrook. The Thunder really struggled against a switch everything coverage and could not find good shots in the flow of the offense early in the shot clock. Oklahoma City only had two good options.
Danilo Gallinari was a good option in the mid-range. Gallinari was able to consistently knock down jumpers when smaller guards switched onto him. Gallinari could just shoot over the top of these players and get clean looks.
Steven Adams was the other efficient option. The Rockets do not have a player who can match Adams for size. It meant that Adams had a mismatch every single time he received the ball in the post. Oklahoma City have a size advantage and the coaching staff have to maximise this advantage.
Steven will always get an efficient look down low if he is being defended by Eric Gordon or PJ Tucker. Both players are powerfully built forwards but they simply cannot match Adams’ strength and frame. Steven has the physicality and technical ability to work over smaller guys in the post.
The Thunder fed Adams when he got deep in the post against a smaller guard in Game 1 and Steven Adams did pretty well. Adams scored 17 points on just 13 FGA. His production was solid and is indicative of his performance level. Steven was able to create efficient shots down low and the defense played by the Rockets did not seem to trouble him.
Post play is seen to be an inefficient look in today’s NBA but I believe that this strategy will work well against a team that have fully committed to small, skilful lineups. Adams will be able to get good looks at the rim or foul shots. There is no way that Gordon or Tucker can defend Adams without fouling the Big Kiwi.
Both possibilities are good outcomes for the Thunder. Gordon and Tucker accumulating fouls quickly during the game will mean foul trouble and tentative defenses later in the game. Oklahoma City have to be careful when getting the ball to Adams in the post.
The Rockets have worked on defensive scheming to make big men ineffective down low. Houston crowd the center and deflect the entry pass when the opposing team tries to make this toss. Oklahoma City have to break this line of defense before making the entry pass.
The Thunder have to shift the ball quickly and drag the Houston defense around the court to create this opportunity. It is too good of an offensive option to ignore for the Thunder’s coaching staff.
Adams has to get at least fifteen shots down low. The post will be a valuable scoring option for the Thunder and Oklahoma City have to exploit this advantage. Steven needs to adjust his mindset as well. I love Adams’ unselfishness but he has to recognise that taking more shots for himself is in the team’s interest for this series.
Adams emerging as a legitimate scoring option in the post will stress the Rockets’ defense. The Rockets will need to bring help defense to try and slow down Adams when Steven is located in his sweet spots.
The Rockets’ defense will not be able to cover the perimeter as effectively if the defense is keyed in on stopping Steven down low. The offense will be able to flow more openly when more gaps in the Rockets’ defense materialise.
The playoffs is a chess match between coaches. It is all about adjustments and finding the kind of marginal gains which can turn the fate of a series. I firmly believe that Adams in the post is the type of adjustment which will win the Thunder games against the Rockets.