It wasn’t exactly a must-win for either team, but a win on Thursday for the Rockets would not only give them a 2-0 lead in the first round Western Conference playoff series against the Thunder, it would allow them to rest Russell Westbrook another game to get him back to 100 percent.
On Thursday, the Rockets took a commanding lead in the series beating Oklahoma City 111-98 thanks to a furious second half comeback. With Westbrook cheering his teammates on wearing a ripped up Iron Maiden T-shirt like it was it was 1985, the Rockets rallied from a first half deficit, outscoring Chris Paul and the Thunder 58-39 in the second half. Here are some thoughts.
The game seems too fast for the Thunder.
Chris Paul controls the floor for OKC, but it is precisely his slow, half-court style of game that is hurting his team. The Rockets continue to play with a frenetic pace that demands teams keep up and the Thunder have yet to be able to do so. OKC led 59-53 at the half, but that was with the Rockets struggling terribly from the floor and basically being kept afloat by an outsized effort from Austin Rivers. By the second half, Houston refocused its defense and found its shot. The Thunder had no chance.
Danuel House is coming into his own.
The key for House is effort and he gave it, particularly in the second half. He is looking like one of the better on-the-ball defenders in the league and his outside shot is becoming more consistent. He had 19 points on 6-13 shooting to go with nine rebounds. His energy and quick hands were a big part of what spurred the Rockets second half comeback. Last year, we probably would not have seen this kind of consistent energy from House, but it is paying off for him and his team this postseason.
Rockets are confident shooting no matter what the situation.
After a miserable shooting first half, the Rockets did what they do: They kept shooting. The finished with a new NBA playoff record 56 three pointers. They only made 19 of them, but their relentless confidence from beyond the arc means that they can shoot a somewhat lower percentage and still make them when they count. No doubt they will want to shoot better from outside, but the confidence to keep firing away, knowing they have enough shooters to eventually have some fall, is a huge advantage on the offensive end of the floor.
Houston is winning with defense.
But, even with their record pace on offense, it is their defense that is the reason they are winning. Without a rim protector or even a solid big man to rebound, they have turned to a handsy, hyperactive switching defense that frustrates offenses and leads to turnovers and contested shots. Their communication on the defensive end has improved dramatically and they seem to effortless rotate to the right person. Most importantly, they aren’t allowing struggles on offense to affect their defensive intensity. In fact, they are leading with defense and using it to jump start their scoring. It makes them a very difficult team to beat.