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Game 5: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets - Preview, Game Thread

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The Thunder look to take the lead of the series

Houston Rockets v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Oklahoma City come into Game 5 on the back of a huge win in Game 4. The Thunder were able to grind out another victory against the Rockets and tied the series at 2-2. It was a huge momentum shift in the series.

The Thunder need to carry this mentality in Game 5. Oklahoma City have levelled this series by remaining relentless and ruthless. Game 4 could have easily gone the Rockets’ way if the Thunder gave up in the third quarter when Houston were up by 15 points.

Oklahoma City did not stop and the heads did not drop. The players were undeterred by the deficit and continued to fight with every sinew of their being. It was brilliant to watch; an entire team pulled together and punched above their weight.

Game 5 will start at 6:30 p.m. (EST) and the fixture will be broadcast on TNT and Fox Sports Oklahoma. For international viewers, the game will be available to watch on NBA League Pass.

The Thunder have no new injuries and every player will be available to Billy Donovan. There have been no changes for the Rockets either. Russell Westbrook will sit out Game 5 as he recovers from a quad injury. Westbrook has missed the last two weeks of play.

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

Dort vs Harden:

Luguentz Dort has been exceptional on Harden during this series so far. Harden has shot just 23.5% on all field goals attempts when Lu Dort has been the primary defender. Dort’s defense has harried and harangued Harden into taking bad looks.

The statistics clearly show that Dort has been very effective on Harden but the statistics fail to identify the effects of Dort’s defense on Harden. Luguentz Dort is a physical defender who is adept at staying in front of his man. James Harden has to exert so much energy to get past Dort and Harden is clearly feeling the effects of the defense.

Harden was gassed towards the end of Game 4 and he had no appetite for fighting through the defense for easy looks at the rim. Harden’s fatigue meant that he settled for bad looks throughout the fourth quarter. The Rockets’ guard went 1-4 on 3PA and he settled for pulling up from 30ft on multiple occasions.

Deep pull ups are not bad shots when Harden is rolling. When Harden is in rhythm, he will routinely knock down this shot. It is a much more difficult shot for James when he is cold. Harden would have done better attacking the rim during the second half.

Mike D’Antoni will want to get his primary scoring option onto an easier matchup. In Game 4, Houston’s offensive scheme changed significantly. The Rockets offloaded Clint Capela in order to fully commit to an isolation style of basketball. This trade meant that the number of screens per game dropped hugely.

In Game 4, Houston set 61 ball screens during the game. This is a huge increase compared to previous data and it is a deviation from the iso-heavy style of play. The Rockets have gone this way to try and find pockets of space where Harden can create without the defense bodying him.

Mike D’Antoni is only going to get more creative with his ball screens. I expect to see the Rockets running back screens and elevator plays to create space for Harden. The Rockets do not want Dort to be attached to Harden for the entirety of the game.

Oklahoma City have to expect that Dort will be separated from Harden during periods of the game. The second defender has to be disciplined when hedging the screen action. They cannot afford to reach in on Harden and they have to manage the distance carefully. This has to be a key area for Billy Donovan when he is coaching the team.

Dennis:

In the last two games, Dennis Schroder has looked unstoppable at times. Schroder’s speed and agility has been important in breaking the first line of the Rockets’ defense. Dennis has generated quality looks at the hoop by using his pace.

Oklahoma City leaned into Dennis’ ability to beat the defense towards the end of Game 4. The Thunder started hunting mismatches and forced PJ Tucker or Robert Covington to switch onto Schroder.

As the series has gone, Tucker and Covington have been worn down by the Thunder’s physicality. Both players looked gassed towards the end of Game 4 and Game 3. Their lack of lateral quickness has been something that the Thunder have attacked recently.

Oklahoma City will find a lot of success by attacking Tucker or Covington. They do not have the energy to contain the speed that Dennis Schroder provides. The Thunder have to hunt these matchups and exploit the Rockets’ weakness.

Transition Points:

The Rockets have been a good defensive team in the half court. Coach Elston Turner deserves a lot of credit for building a scheme that squeezes the floor and reduces the number of open looks that the defense gives up.

However, the Rockets are bad at defending in transition. Houston gave up 23.8 points per game in transition in the regular season. Houston also allowed the most transition field goal attempts (16.1 FGA) per game in the league.

Houston have bad tendencies in open floor situations. Players seem to lack the urgency and desire to get back on defense. James Harden is notorious for sauntering back in transition when the Rockets are on defense.

Oklahoma City have to attack this weakness in transition and semi-transition opportunities. The Thunder have the personnel to create turnovers and move the ball up the floor quickly. This is something that the Thunder have to maximize against the Houston Rockets.

Oklahoma City have found success by playing fast in the half-court. It might be time to play with the same speed in the open floor. Oklahoma City will not get many easy scoring opportunities against the Rockets; transition points is one of the few easy looks available to the Thunder.

Rocket Blasts:

Jeff Green

Jeff Green has gone off during this series against the Thunder. Green has averaged 17.3 points per game in the series and he has been incredibly valuable to the Rockets’ offense. Mike D’Antoni has deployed Jeff Green as a point center at times for Houston.

Jeff Green at center has been difficult to stop for the Thunder’s defense. Green is too fast for Nerlens Noel or Steven Adams to contain off the dribble. It has been a shrewd adjustment by D’Antoni and Green’s production has helped to fill the void left by Russell Westbrook’s absence.

The Thunder have to try and find the way of limiting the Rockets’ bench points. It is impossible to stop James Harden but it is entirely possible to stop Houston’s other offensive options.

I think that Darius Bazley could stifle Jeff Green. Bazley is a lengthy, fast big who is comfortable defending on the perimeter and inside. Bazley’s combination of athleticism and defensive smarts will give Jeff Green a tougher matchup.

Westbrook

Russell Westbrook will not play in Game 5. The Rockets will not be able to rely on Westbrook to change the momentum of this series. Westbrook’s return would have bolstered the Rockets’ options on offense. Russell being ruled out of Game 5 is a backbreaker for the Rockets.

The Rockets have looked tired in recent games and the jolt of energy provided by Russell’s return would have been beneficial to the players. It is now a different situation. Houston have to play Game 5 with the same, fatigued guys that had to play Game 4.

Random Side-Note

Steven Adams and Russell Westbrook are known to be good friends. They have a really close friendship due to the years that they spent in the trenches together in Oklahoma City. However, that did not stop the two players chirping at each other during Game 4.