Houston Rockets take strangle hold on series with Game 4 win over Thunder

  • I’ve been wanting to write such a headline for a while, but it can really only be done in the 3-1 context.  2-0 is too close for comfort, and 3-0 is basically over (i.e. ‘Houston Rockets end series with Game 3 win’).  But 3-1 win?  That’s when you’ve grabbed the series by the throat and are virtually in the driver’s seat.  You have three more chances to bring it home.
  • This felt like it was basically as bad of a game as the Rockets could have played, and they still won.  James Harden had his worst game of the series, Ryan Anderson was again nonexistent, and Clint Capela was a team worst -25, unable seemingly to do anything right on either end of the court.  But Nene came up huge, earning every dollar of the minimum-wage contract he signed, scoring 28 points on 12-12 shooting, providing the muscle the Rockets had none of with the starting lineup (more on that).  Future Hall of Famers Eric Gordon and Lou Williams put in 18 apiece off the bench, fueling Houston after sluggish starts.

  • First thought is what happens next year when Nene inevitably leaves elsewhere for the money he’s earning right now, but second thought is there will be time to worry about that in June.  Capela was so, so soft and utterly ineffective that several of you called for Montrezl Harrell in his place.  I’d like to give Harrell a shot, but I’m not holding my breath on him being able to rebound over these Thunder bigs.  (Harrell had a paltry total rebound percentage of 11.2 this year; compare that with Capela’s 18.5).  But maybe he can bring some muscle – I don’t know.  Capela just looked badly overmatched against OKC’s bruising frontline, getting manhandled defensively, and bobbling several passes at the other end.  I’m not ready to pull the plug on Capela completely here – he’s had his moments in this series, particularly at rim protection.  But it might be time to change things up at that spot slightly for Game 5.  Pau Gasol will be a much better matchup in the semis.
  • This is already a sweep were it not for Houston’s sluggish starts in every game to both the first and third quarters.  The Rockets have needed the bench brigade of Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, and Nene to come in and clean things up after the starters have dug themselves in a hole, and that trio has responded to the call every time.  If you’re Mike D’Antoni, do you shake up the starting lineup heading into Game 5?  The obvious routes would be 1) Nene in for Capela, 2) Ariza to the ‘4’, Gordon to the ‘3’, or 3) Ariza to the ‘4’, Lou Williams to the ‘3’.  (Ariza won’t get benched).  I’m not a Mike D’Antoni historian, but is a drastic change mid-series like this something to which he would be open?  I suppose those Phoenix Suns teams had enough firepower in the starting lineup to where this was probably never even on the table.  I think I personally would start Nene and Gordon and bench Anderson and Capela to start Game 5.  The beauty with benching Capela is that its not really even a demotion that would harm his confidence – he and Nene were sharing duties all year regardless.
  • After years of suffering through it on the other end, during the Dwight Howard tenure, I naturally loved Mike D’Antoni’s decision to intentionally foul Andre Roberson towards the end of the game.  It stopped momentum, took the ball out of Westbrook’s hands, and also took Roberson out of the game during key stretches.  The strategy is definitely one I would continue in Game 5.
  • I just realized now that Enes Kanter only played seven minutes today.
  • For as breathtaking as Russell Westbrook was on several possessions, he again took some ill-advised shots from which Houston benefitted.  I’ve said enough on this topic, on Twitter, but the Thunder supporting cast, one practically characterized as D-League level by the national media, has looked more than capable when Westbrook is serving as a willing playmaker.  These are freaking NBA players.  Adams and Taj Gibson have bullied the Rockets frontline inside all series, and Andre Roberson has time and time again found open cracks in the Rockets defense.  But hey, if Russell wants to be Russell, and ignore his teammates, the way he has for years, that’s fine with me.  It benefits the Rockets.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of www.Red94.net.

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