That pretty much went as expected. The Rockets were thoroughly manhandled by the Thunder and after halftime, it wasn’t even a game. The highlight of the night might have been the TNT studio banter regarding the Rockets’ age. Charles Barkley took issue with the statement that the Rockets, and particularly James Harden, were “young”, and the rest of the crew, justifiably, roasted him for it. (The Rockets, of course, are in fact the youngest and least experienced team in the league.)
Now it’s back to the drawing board to try and see what can be done to even make this a series.
What did we learn? Probably two main things.
First, that the Rockets will need a lot more Beverley. The rookie point guard was probably the sole bright spot for the Rockets in this one, as he keyed a 13-2 run that brought Houston back into a tie score. Beverley had impact from the minute he set foot on the court, deflecting passes, driving the lane, and providing energy.
The other thing gleaned was that Greg Smith needs to be pulled from the lineup. The Rocket forward finished the game a -34, looking completely lost for much of the night. Houston doesn’t have the margin for error to give him another chance.
After what we saw tonight, I’d give serious consideration to actually starting Beverley–alongside Lin–and moving Parsons to the ‘4’. I argued the other day that the team should increase Beverley’s minutes, but after tonight, even that was an understatement. I’d start him and play him 35+. The Rockets simply cannot compete with Oklahoma City if using a conventional lineup.
Jeremy Lin, for his part, was particularly atrocious, going 1-7 from the floor with 4 turnovers. His more glaring flaws were on greater display as he forced crosscourt passes when pressured, was out of control, and discontinued any usage of his left hand. Still, the team made its run while he was on the floor, and he did put pressure on the Thunder defense. As bad as Lin played, with as few offensive weapons as this Rockets team has, they have to keep running him out there.
Houston’s biggest problem, as it had been all year, was that they simply cannot survive without Omer Asik. At the 5:51 mark of the second quarter, the game was tied 38-38. Asik, in need of a breather, came out, and was replaced by Greg Smith. From that point on, Ibaka got rolling and the Thunder never looked back. Smith lost Ibaka on consecutive possessions, causing Kevin McHale to rush Asik back into the game.