Start time - 7:00 p.m (CT)
Broadcaster: Bally Sports Oklahoma
Over the last five years, the rivalry between the Rockets and the Thunder has been heated to say the least. The last time that the two teams faced each other in a playoff setting, the Rockets dragged themselves over the line in the Bubble.
It was a hard fought series between two teams who gave everything they had to try and make it to the second round. Luguentz Dort and James Harden were the two defining protagonists of the series. Houston’s hopes of winning this series rested on Harden’s scoring and the Thunder’s ambitions rested on the young Canadian’s shoulders.
Last season was a lost season for both teams. Houston finally pulled the trigger on a Harden trade and chose to enter the rebuilding stage. The Rockets lost a lot of games and ended up with one of the most exciting players in the Draft. Houston went out and got Jalen Green, a young shooting guard who just gets buckets.
The Thunder also chose to completely pursue the tank; Al Horford was sent home, healthy, during the season. George Hill was dealt to the Sixers. As soon as Shai’s plantar fasciitis became too difficult to manage, the Thunder’s aim shifted to getting a high draft pick.
The rivalry has changed now with Josh Giddey and Jalen Green finding themselves in starring roles. In the past, it was Russell Westbrook and James Harden going at each other. Now, the rivalry will be picked up by two of the most exciting players from the 2021 NBA Draft.
Alperen Sengen also binds the two clubs as it was a decision that created a lot of chatter among the Thunder fanbase. Sengun was a Turkish league MVP and was seen to be a steal at #16. He spent all of five minutes as a Thunder player before being dealt to Houston for picks.
Very few people expected Sengun to slide that far and getting him in the mid first round was viewed to be a coup for the Thunder. Dealing a player like that so quickly divided Thunder fans. For full disclosure, I bought into Sengun massively and still believe he could be an All-Star.
From the sporting standpoint, the game against Houston will be a good litmus test for the Thunder. Oklahoma City got lit up by the Utah Jazz, a consistent playoff team. The Thunder could not stop Rudy Gobert inside.
That being said, the Rockets are closer to the Thunder’s level. They have no real aspirations of making the playoffs and are loaded with young, volatile talents. It should be an opportunity to see how the Thunder perform when the talent differential is more balanced.
The Thunder played somewhat well against Utah but they lost their simplicity. OKC were determined to thread the ball through tight gaps and split the defense at every single opportunity. The Thunder did not seem to realise that the simple pass is just as effective as the flashy dime.
Providing that the Thunder move the ball well and stop helping one pass away on open shooters, Oklahoma City should have a solid chance at winning this game.