Red94 writers Mike Pina, Rob Dover and John Eby tackle three pressing questions about the third game in the OKC-HOU series, which OKC leads 2-0.
1. How does OKC adjust to Westbrook’s absence?
Pina: The Thunder will run more of their offense through Kevin Durant, which has the potential to be enormously positive as long as he’s physically up for it.
Dover: It’s difficult to predict exactly how OKC will come out without Westbrook because they’ve literally never been without him before. Durant will be called on to do a lot more, both in terms of ball-handling and scoring. Westbrook did a lot of assisting but there still wasn’t much ball movement in the system. That’s going to have to change if they’re going to compensate for his loss.
Eby: The simplest answer is more touches for Durant. When Fisher is on the floor, I would expect to see Durant try to run the offense through the post, with shooters cutting around him. However, we might see Reggie Jackson try to step into the role of poor man’s Westbrook, partly because the team will need him to in order for the Thunder to make a run past the first round. But that’s a tough act.
2. How could OKC exploit Houston’s three-guard lineup experiment?
Pina: The most obvious answer is on the glass, where Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant should go above their rebounding averages if Kendrick Perkins/Nick Collison can tangle with Omer Asik.
Dover: Because Parsons needs to cover Durant, when the Rockets go small they are forced to put Harden on Ibaka. Ibaka doesn’t have much of a post game, which negates the primary method you would use to attack such a matchup, but several times in the last game he was able to easily out-rebound the Beard for a putback. OKC are blessed with a multitude of good three point shooters, so they should be able to disperse Houston’s 2-3 zone a bit better now they’ve had a good look at it.
Eby: By trying some lineups with Ibaka at center, and with Sefolosha and K-Mart sharing the court. This gives OKC the speed to keep up on defense, and forces Asik out of the paint to guard Ibaka.
3. Should the Thunder be worried about Houston’s below average shooting from behind the arc returning to average?
Pina: The Rockets went 10-for-35 from behind the arc in Game 2. Delfino made only three of 10 attempts and Harden made one of seven. Those are borderline anomalies that should correct themselves, but the Rockets also need to do a better job finishing at the rim if they want to outscore the Thunder for 48 minutes.
Dover: The Rockets shot 10-35 in Game 2, based on regular season percentages they would average 13-35, which would have been enough to have won Game 2. There’s a case for saying that you’d expect playoff percentages to be lower due to more attentive defense, but if you look at the three point attempts the Rockets generated in that game it’s not like there was a hand in their face for most of them. Figuring out how to effectively defend against the Rockets’ floor-spreading ways will probably have been near the top of the list for Scott Brooks and his coaching staff in the run up to Game 3.
Eby: Yes. When a team misses 25 (!) three-point shots against you, still scores 101 points and only loses by three points in your building, something is not right with your defense. Honestly, the cracks were visible even in the game 1 blowout–in most statistical categories, the teams came out almost the same, but OKC shot 41.7 percent from the arc while Houston shot 22.2 percent. And now Westbrook’s talent can’t save them if shooting hands go cold.