We’re going with a more-the-merrier approach to the game previews for the playoffs. Weighing in for game 2 are Michael Pina, writer for CelticsHub and Red94, Forrest Walker, writer for Red94, and John Eby, writer for Red94. Feel free to add your own takes on the questions in the comments. We believe in democracy.
1. How does Houston respond to the blowout–fighting or sulking?
Pina: Houston won’t be shocked by the moment in Game 2 as they were in Game 1. The Thunder crashed into them with an initial wave, and by halftime it was basically over. In Game 2 they certainly won’t back down or let their environment affect their play. But they’ll probably still lose.
Walker: It’s extremely hard to blow the same team out twice in a row. Not only are all NBA coaching staffs able to make adjustments between games, but the emotional state of a blown-out team is seldom sulking. A heartbreaking close loss? That might inspire some self-pity. But being destroyed on the court is more like a cold dip into icy waters. Harden and his team are likely to be mad, and mad at both teams. This season’s Rockets don’t give up without a fight, but that doesn’t mean the fight guarantees a win.
Eby: It will be a fight. Partly because Harden, Lin, Parsons, Asik and Beverly still play every game like they have something to prove, Delfino is the consummate pro, and Terrence Jones is dying to make a name for himself. Partly because expectations for this team were so low that a blowout loss doesn’t create the same strife as it would for a higher-caliber team.
2. How does OKC respond to the blowout–coasting or dominating?
Pina: Oklahoma City has a championship pedigree. They want to end this series as quickly as possible so they can further prepare for a Round 2 opponent.
Walker: During the regular season, lots of teams take a game off after a blowout. It’s a long season, and any chance to find a little joy is a welcome one. Unfortunately for Houston, the regular season is over and the Thunder aren’t like lots of teams. We know how nice Kevin Durant is, and we’ve seen Russell Westbrook step on teams’ throats. Oklahoma City is driven like never before, and won’t let off the gas after just one win.
Eby: Dominating, but with a caveat. If OKC starts unraveling at some point in the game, we could have the perfect conditions for a Bad Russell outbreak. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in trying to prove his case as the best guard from last year’s Thunder backcourt, he presses too hard and costs his team a few quality possessions.
3. How does McHale adjust the lineup (or does he)?
Pina: Carlos Delfino should see more minutes as the series goes on, and he might even crack the starting lineup in Greg Smith’s place.
Walker: The Greg Smith experiment is peeling around the edges. As flawed as +/- is, Smith’s -34 from game one warrants serious concern. While a lineup with Parsons at the power forward spot will be very tempting, the defensive quandaries it poses are troubling. Serge Ibaka is long, strong, and able to score, while Kevin Durant is one of the deadliest scorers alive. An offensively adept three-guard lineup would leave one of those two players with a vastly undersized defender. McHale has hard choices ahead of him, but caution is a luxury for the favored teams. McHale has nothing to lose, so lineups are likely to get shaken up. If Parsons doesn’t see minutes at the four, expect a revolving door of power forwards, just to see what’s working today.
Eby: I would say Greg Smith stays in the starting lineup partly to keep his confidence up, and partly out of old-fashioned coach stubbornness. Look for Delfino at the 4 to keep Ibaka’s long arms out of the lane if the offense stalls. Look for Terrence Jones to play eight sparkling minutes before being pulled for a veteran down the stretch. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Beverly-Lin-Harden three-guard lineup gets some burn as well.
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