Rockets edge Thunder to take 3-1 series lead

After what wasn’t the best basketball played by either side, the Rockets narrowly escape OKC with a 3-1 series lead.

Nene goes for 28 points on a perfect 12/12 from the field for the Rockets as Russell Westbrook records his third straight triple double 35/14/14 in the loss. On a night that began like the rest of them in the series, the ending felt very uncharacteristic. The Rockets employ a hack-a-Roberson (2-12 FTs) strategy to bring them back into the game late, they hold on and go back home with a chance to end the series.

“We are one team, don’t split us up,” were the words of Westbrook after the game. Though they ring true, it’s hard to ignore the 43-point difference for the Thunder when Westbrook goes to the bench. The Thunder are -40 with Westbrook on the bench, +3 with him on the floor. The impact of Westbrook is immediately noticeable. Especially when his backup Norris Cole is playing exceptionally below average when he’s on the floor (-18 on the night). On an afternoon that saw Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo awaken for a combined 33 points on 75-percent shooting, the bench of the Thunder just couldn’t keep up without Westbrook on the floor.

The Rockets only needed to shoot 43-percent from the field and go 11-35 from deep to secure the backend of the Thunder homestead. This is the second time this series that the Rockets weren’t on their A game and still came away with a win. The Rockets offense was heavily supplemented on the night from the charity stripe with them going 28-33 from the line. The Rockets have been dominating with free chances this series, which has boosted their offense despite them not shooting great from behind the arc for this series.

In an odd occurrence, the Rockets bench outscored the starters, going for a combined 64 points from Lou Williams, Nene, and Eric Gordon. The availability of such potent offense from the bench has been the key for the Rockets this whole season, and they’ve been shining this whole season. It’s been Houston’s ability to know everyone on the floor can score that has been the difference maker at all times this series.

Billy Donovan needs to figure something out quickly with his rotation players. The offense without Westbrook on the floor is stagnant. It’s obvious when you look at the box score and no one besides Westbrook has more than 2 assists. Allowing for the Rockets to abuse Roberson’s poor foul shooting to cover a struggling Harden was not a wise move. With an offense that already is prone to stalling allowing them to stall and control the clock wrote the end for the Thunder in this game.

Donovan also need to adapt a mentality to close out the Rockets early coming out of halftime. Allowing the Rockets bench to get into rhythm in the second half has spelled doom for the Thunder. Someone is going to need to control the Thunder with Westbrook off the floor, or Houston could be finishing the Gentleman’s sweep in game five.

Markus Murden
Baseline Times Staff Writer