One MVP candidate easily outplayed another in Game 1 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets playoff series, and it contributed to a 118-87 win for the Rockets.
James Harden had 37 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and just two turnovers for Houston while Russell Westbrook had 22 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and nine turnovers and shot 6-of-23 from the field for Oklahoma City.
There were obviously several other factors leading the blowout, but everyone was watching for the matchup of MVP candidates. Harden took round 1 in a landslide.
OKC will need to make some adjustments and just play harder on both ends of the floor to even the series today (8pm ET Wednesday on TNT). Which questions will define tonight’s game? And how will the contest end up? We’ll ask some of those questions and then make some betting predictions and picks regarding the outcome of the game.
Was Patrick Beverley’s Game 1 Performance a Fluke?
Maybe the biggest storyline from Game 1 was that Beverley outplayed his matchup, Thunder superstar Westbrook. Beverley contributed 21 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and just two turnovers on 8-of-13 shooting while holding Westbrook to aforementioned stat line. I don’t think many people saw that coming.
Beverley is an excellent defender and he forced Westbrook into tough shots. But the combination of Beverley hitting so many shots and Westbrook missing so many and making so many careless decisions with the ball was about as favorable for Houston as the squad could get.
The Rockets’ 6’1” bulldog will need to play with the same energy he had in Game 1. Westbrook will also need to continue bricking his jump shots if the Rockets want a blowout win.
Can Enes Kanter Make Himself Playable?
Oklahoma City’s Kanter is one of the best bench players in the league. I think you could make an argument that he deserves consideration for the Sixth Man of the Year award with his 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game on good efficiency. However, he struggles mightily on defense because of his slow feet and a lack of awareness.
His defense was so bad in Game 1 that pundits started to bring up the “U” word: unplayable. Houston put him in pick-and-rolls nearly every possession he was in the game and made a killing on those plays. James Harden, in particular, was great at getting Kanter to switch on him before he embarrassed the Thunder center in isolation.
Kanter needs to be extra dominant in the post on offense if he wants to justify significant playing time. Maybe OKC coach Billy Donovan can also do him a favor by using him frequently in the minutes Harden is resting on the bench.
Can Steven Adams Play Tougher Inside?
One of the biggest disappointments for the Thunder on Sunday was Adams, their starting center. The New Zealander contributed just six points and five rebounds, getting outplayed inside by Clint Capela and Nene (29 points and 12 rebounds combined).
Adams contributed to the Thunder getting out rebounded 62-48 and outscored 62-38 in the paint. He struggled when he was switched onto smaller players on the perimeter and was late to help on drivers.
It was basically a disastrous game for Adams. He is a solid player, so should be able to bounce back. How much he bounces back is the question.
Our Preview’s Thunder vs Rockets Game 2 Picks & Betting Predictions
It is unreasonable for this preview to expect another 31-point win for Houston. However, the Rockets are considerably deeper as a team and seem to work much better as a unit. I’m expecting them to win the series in five games at most, and my betting prediction is that they will win Game 2.
Westbrook could be magical in Game 2, but OKC have lost so many games this season when he puts forth an amazing performance. I’m also not expecting the Thunder’s Andre Roberson to make four out of six threes again (he shot 16.0 percent from downtown on the road this season).
- The USA betting firms have the Rockets favored by 7.5 to 8 points. That seems a tad disrespectful to the Rockets, as I think they’ll win by somewhere between 10 and 15 points. The best option at the odds is to pick Houston -7.5pts @ -115 with Bovada or MyBookie.
- The total points over-under for this game is 223pts. Houston was unnaturally locked in on defense as a group in Game 1. Instead of Houston falling back into their usual habits, I think Oklahoma City will come close to matching the Rockets’ intensity on the defensive end. Naturally, that will create a lower-scoring game, so pick the under 223pts @ -102 with 5Dimes Sportsbook. It is -110 odds with most of the other bookmakers.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.