Three Red94 writers weigh in on three pressing questions about game 6 between the Thunder and the Rockets.
1. Houston could be the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit because…
Michael Pina: The opposing team’s second best player is out for the playoffs with a knee injury. Before Russell Westbrook went down, most already though the Rockets could win one, even two, games in this series. But their small-ball lineups now look extra explosive with Scott Brooks playing Derek Fisher 30 minutes a game.
Rob Dover: The Thunder just aren’t the same team without Westbrook. The Rockets can exploit his absence – they are free to key on Durant and don’t have to worry about their frail transition defense being abused. McHale has been comprehensively outcoaching Brooks and on the back of his smallball tactics the Rockets are capable of getting hot and swiping the last two games.
Paul McGuire:It looks like they’ve managed to regain their shooting touch from long range. The Rockets shot under 33% from long range for all 3 losses, but shot above 40% in their two wins. Something as mercurial as 3 point shooting can go away in an instant, but Houston cannot afford that if they want to make history.2. Houston will not be the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit because…
Pina: There’s a reason Kevin Durant is the second best player in the world, and that this team was a questionable LeBron James no-call from going up 2-0 on the Miami Heat in last year’s NBA Finals. That reason is the Thunder are very, very good.
Dover: It’s too much to ask for the Thunder’s complementary players to struggle on their home court again in game 7. If Martin and Sefalosha had made a few more of their open looks on Wednesday the series could have been done already. It’s probably too much to ask of this young Rockets team to win two games in Loud City.
McGuire:Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin will show up eventually. There have been the usual foolish concerns about whether Durant, who has scored a ridiculous 74 points on 39 shots over Games 4 and 5, is a “winner,” but he’s had very little help for the past two games from OKC’s next best players. If all three of them have a good game, Houston really does not have a chance.3. Jeremy Lin has not played in the Rockets 2 wins. Coincidence or causality?
Pina: Coincidence. I’m leaning towards coincidence even though Lin’s absence has allowed players like Francisco Garcia and Aaron Brooks to thrive in what would be his minutes, but Westbrook’s injury is far more significant than anything the Rockets have done.
Dover: Total coincidence. The turnaround is all about Westbrook and nothing to do with Lin. I worry that if Lin tries to come back too soon he might hurt the team though. He was a non-factor trying to play through pain in Game 3 and McHale should only put him in if he is confident Lin will be able to do more than just shuttle the ball round the perimeter.
McGuire: Coincidence, and I like to think I’ve been fairly tough on Lin this season. A team surging for a brief moment after a key player is injured is not uncommon, whether it is Houston defeating the Clippers after Harden sat out or the Lakers surging to the playoffs after Kobe’s torn Achilles. But over the long term, there is no doubt that the Rockets are better with Lin than without.