In a matter of less than 48 hours prior to the tip-off of Game 3, the series took a dramatic shift after it was announced that Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook would undergo surgery Friday for a torn meniscus in his knee. While his status is uncertain for the rest of the playoffs, it’s likely that he will miss the rest of the first round series with the Houston Rockets. The Rockets now will shift all their attention defensively on containing Kevin Durant, and now have a great opportunity to get back into the series with the next two games at Toyota Center. Here are 3 quick keys for the Rockets to come out with a win Saturday night.
1. James Harden Must Duplicate His Game 2 Performance, And PLAY DEFENSE
Regardless of whether or not Jeremy Lin can play in game 3, the Rockets still need a 30 plus point performance from James Harden. A 36 point, 11 rebound, 6 assist performance like that of game 2 will be what the Rockets need from Harden to stand a chance of pulling off a win.
The only downside to Harden’s game 2 performance was that he went just 9 for 24 from the field, including 1 for 7 from behind the arc. While he was able to get to the free throw line 20 times, Harden must knock down some jump shots to help clear the crowded paint, which the Thunder have done all series to contain Harden.
On the other hand, it’s no secret how poor Harden is defensively, but he must make some sort of effort on that side of the ball from here on out. Should Lin be able to play in game 3, Harden will again have to guard Serge Ibaka with the Rockets small lineup. Keeping Ibaka off the offensive boards will be key for the Rockets to win.
2. Contain the Thunder Supporting Cast
All eyes will be on Durant, and the Rockets will send more help for Chandler Parsons on the defensive end. Houston can shift all their attention and containment to Durant now, but they must not get carried away with the surrounding players. The beauty of the situation for the Rockets now is that Durant can score 30 or even 40 points, and it still might not have an impact on the outcome of the game, as the Thunder’s next leading scorer in the regular season aside from Westbrook was Kevin Martin, who averaged around 14 points a game.
If the Rockets focus too much on double-teaming and containing Durant, then Martin, Reggie Jackson, or even Derek Fisher are all capable of knocking down open 3’s. Martin, as Rockets fans know, is very capable of scoring over 20 points, so limiting him and the rest of the crew is more important for the Rockets than trying to hold Durant under 40 points. The Rockets did a good job in game 2, limiting Martin to just 10 points, Ibaka to 12 points and 11 assists, and 20 total bench points for the Thunder.
3. Relax, Take a Deep, and Use the Home Court Advantage
When the term home court advantage is used, most people tend to think about the crowd and the momentum the home team can get from the crowd’s energy. But for the Rockets in game 3, returning to their home floor can do wonders for their three point shooting as they return to shoot on familiar rims, and the settings around the basket. If the Rockets can’t get their three point shots to go down, then Westbrook’s injury will have no impact on the outcome of the series.
The Rockets went just 10 for 35 from beyond the arc in game 2, including just 3 for 10 in the fourth quarter, with Parsons and Carlos Delfino shooting 3 for 10 from three, each. If one or two of those missed threes in the fourth quarter had fallen, then game 2 could have turned into a completely different outcome. Making threes have been a huge part of the Rocket’s winning formula all season long, and they must continue to do so if they want to win. Oh, and don’t forget that Toyota Center will be rockin’ as the Rockets host their first playoff game in four years.