The walls are closing in on Oklahoma City Thunder as the team finds itself down 2-0 in their first round playoff series against Houston Rockets. As the series heads to the Chesapeake Bay Arena in OKC, the Thunder face a must-win scenario for game three today (9.30pm ET Friday on ESPN).
When the Rockets/Thunder series began, the biggest story people were following was that of off-court friends and on-court rivals, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The two stars are the frontrunners for the NBA’s MVP award which will be announced following the conclusion of the playoffs. Both Westbrook and Harden have a legitimate claim to the award and it was being said this first round series could sway voters in either direction.
The Rockets find themselves up two games but if voters are being swayed either way, it’s likely those votes are going toward Westbrook, who continues to do what he’s done all season long and that’s be a one man wrecking crew. Unfortunately for him and for the Thunder, you need a lot more than one player to win in the postseason. The Thunder have so far been learning that lesson the hard way and if they have any hope of keeping their season alive, they will need to find production in other places of their line-up.
Game One Recap
There is no way around it. In game one, the Rockets absolutely routed the Thunder, defeating the road team by 31 points. It was a blowout of epic proportions complete with Harden putting up 37 points, outscoring Westbrook’s pedestrian 22 points. The Thunder’s top player shot just 6-of-23 from the floor with nine turnovers as well. There really was no second line of defense for OKC either as only Andre Roberson (18 pts) and Jerami Grant (10 pts) finished in double digits aside from Westbrook. Everyone on the team who played at least five minutes finished with a negative plus/minus.
Meanwhile, the Rockets were scoring up and down their line-up as, including Harden, five players finished in double digits, three of which had at least 15 points. Patrick Beverly, who offers a great supporting cast to Harden, was once again a strong contributor adding 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 10 rebounds. Inversely to the Thunder, every Rocket who played at least five minutes finished with a positive plus/minus.
It’s that sharp contrast that explains why the Rockets were able to win in such decisive fashion. The Thunder shot just 37 percent from the floor compared to 49.5 for Houston. Following the game Westbrook acknowledged the team, himself included, needed to do a better job with shooting and handling the basketball.
Game Two Recap
Westbrook kept his end of the bargain in game two, proving why he’s one of the best players. He notched yet another triple-double, adding to the 42 he had during the regular season, with a line of 51 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists. It was the highest stat line for a triple double in NBA playoff history. He added 15 of 18 free throws as well. But, the top guard only shot just under 40 percent as he attempted 43 shots during the game, which was just shy of half of the total attempts made by the entire team. His 51 points were almost half of the team’s 111 total as well.
Showing however that one player, as good as Westbrook was, isn’t enough, the Rockets played a team game, placing four players in double figures, three of which had 20 or more points. Harden’s 35 led the way but Lou Williams’ 21 points off the bench in just 21 minutes on the court was a huge boost. The Thunder had their opportunities in this one but Westbrook couldn’t hold down the fort alone and with just a 4-of-18 shooting output in the fourth quarter, OKC fell for the second consecutive game.
Game Three Prediction
The series comes home to Oklahoma City where the Thunder were 28-13 during the regular season. This should provide some help to the team but most importantly, the Thunder need to find out where their points are going to come from aside from Westbrook.
The one man wrecking crew isn’t superhuman despite what he might like to believe and without a supporting cast worth their salt, it’s going to be tough for the Thunder to come back. Anyone who watched the team during the regular season knows there are still evident chemistry and trust issues between Westbrook and his teammates. Until someone steps up and starts making shots, the Thunder guard will likely continue to put the ball in his own hands. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword because Westbrook taking 43 shots and only making 17 of them is doing his team more harm than good.
Defensively, the Thunder also need to figure out how to stop Houston, who have had no trouble getting to the basket or getting opportunities at the free throw line. The Rockets attempted 37 free throws in game two compared to just 28 for the Thunder. Now, the game was not won or lost at the line as Houston was only successful on four more attempts than OKC. However, it didn’t help that every time the Thunder attempted to rally that the Rockets were able to go to the line and stop the team’s momentum. The free throw discrepancy also helped the Rockets get back into game two, which they did not achieve their first lead until the fourth quarter.
Our Preview’s Houston Rockets at OKC Game 3 Picks & Betting Predictions
The best of the US oddsmakers have the Thunder as -2.5pt favorites, with the points total set at 224.
It’s interesting to see that the Thunder are favored despite the obvious boost of them being the home team, because so far in this series OKC has shown itself to be the same team that struggled at times during the regular season. Seeing Westbrook completely dominate the stat sheet doesn’t do anything if the rest of the team can’t back him up and that’s been the biggest problem this series. There doesn’t seem to be a reason to suggest that will change either.
- However, this is very much a backs against the wall situation for the Thunder and in the past they have seemed to thrive in these situations. For them to get swept would be pretty shocking all things considered. So this preview’s prediction is to take the Thunder -2.5pts to cover the spread favored to them @ best odds of -102 with 5Dimes Sportsbook.
- As for the total points to be scored, this series has been all about scoring and no one should be surprised given the presence of Harden and Westbrook. OKC doesn’t play great defense so for them to win they’ll need to put up big numbers so the pick is to take the over 224pts @ -107, which is the best option once again with 5Dimes as the other firms go -110.