Jan 16, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson (15) is defended by Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin (7) during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports
The Oklahoma City Thunder finished 59-23 last season, and were 5th in the NBA in scoring with 106.2 points per game, while holding the opposition to just 99.8; good for a 6.4 point margin. The Thunder pose a number of serious problems for the Houston Rockets, but it is not a foregone conclusion to assume that the Thunder would roll unimpeded through the Rockets.
James Harden is very familiar with the Thunder’s game plan, and the Thunder’s best two talents meet strong Rockets defenders (More so this year with Trevor Ariza sliding in to replace Chandler Parsons at SF). Even so, Harden struggled mightily against the Thunder, and with Patrick Beverley missing three of the four contests, the Thunder’s backcourt had a field day.
The Thunder have more depth and better top-end talent, which spells trouble for any team in the West not named the Spurs.
Game 1: Thunder win 117-86
Game 2: Thunder win 104-92
Game 3: Thunder win 106-98
Game 4: Rockets win 111-107
Average: 11.4 points, Thunder
The Rockets did not fare well against Scott Brooks’ team last season. The Thunder obliterated the Rockets in the first matchup of the year on Dec. 29, 2013. The Rockets were without Patrick Beverley and the Thunder were missing Russell Westbrook. The resulting battle at point guard was between Jeremy Lin and Reggie Jackson. Lin hit just 2-of-9 from the field for six points, while committing three turnovers and only managing one assist. He was a team-worst (-) 28 in plus/minus. Jackson had 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, to go with eight assists and zero turnovers. The battle at point guard was very much in favor of the Thunder.
Apr 4, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) drives the ball around Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons (25) during the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Durant also went bonkers, hitting 11-of-17 and 3-of-5 from three-point range en route to 33 points, five assists and 13 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Rockets premier draw offensively, James Harden, shot only nine field goals and hit just two. He finished with a frustrating eight points and three assists. The battle of stars was won by OKC.
Dwight Howard was also underwhelming, but maybe it shouldn’t be a huge surprise. For all that Kendrick Perkins is or isn’t, he’s always done a decent job of pushing Dwight Howard out of his comfort zone and forcing awkward shots.
Just like in Boston, Perkins relies on a premier defender at power forward (Serge Ibaka) to cover his mistakes and make weak-side plays. Howard shot 4-of-13 from the floor for just nine points and nine rebounds. He was also 1-of-7 from the line.
Perkins actually had the second-best plus/minus that night for the Thunder (+25). Jeremy Lamb was deadly off the bench, scoring 22 points to help the Thunder put it away.
In Game 2, Lin and Jackson again met as the battle of backups thrust into starting roles. Lin again struggled with a strong defender in Jackson, hitting just 2-of-8 from the floor for six points, and again having just two assists. Jackson went off offensively, hitting 11-of-19 (but just 1-of-7 from three) for 23 points, SIX steals, four assists and one lone turnover. Jackson definitively proved he is one of the best backups in the NBA in these games.
Durant had an inefficient 36 points (38 percent shooting), but also had seven assists…and seven turnovers. It was not Durant’s best performance, but the Thunder still won, largely in part due to the fact Durant both provided scoring and made Chandler Parsons struggle. With Parsons expending so much effort defensively on Durant, he shot just 4-of-13 from the floor for 14 points.
Dwight Howard again struggled with the Thunders strong frontcourt, committing five fouls and playing 29 mediocre minutes in which he shot 5-of-13 and scored just 11, while corralling only five boards. The Thunder pretty much have Dwight figured out.
Apr 4, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives the ball to the basket during the first quarter as Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) and guard Andre Roberson (21) defend at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
And it’s not like Harden had a ton of success either, shooting just 6-of-16 for 16 points, though he did have eight assists.
Harden gave the Rockets the best chance to win, as the point differential was just (-) 3 for Harden’s 39 minutes of play. It stands to reason if he could have played the entire game (laugh here), the Rockets plausibly could have won. But he carries enough of a load as it is.
Game 3 saw the return of both Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook. Perkins was out and replaced by Steven Adams, while Perry Jones slid into the starting lineup to put Jackson back on the bench. The two rookies combined for just two points on six attempted field goals between them. Adams had eight boards, and Jones six, so some impact was made at least.
Bev struggled to cover Westbrook, picking up five fouls to limit his playing time to 24 minutes. Westbrook had a 37 percent usage rate in the game while scoring 24 points, dishing out seven assists, and coming up with four steals.
Westbrook did turn the ball over five times, but Beverley produced almost nothing offensively, while Lin was a bit more successful in the second unit (eight points, two assist, four rebounds).
Howard still couldn’t do much against the Thunder’s defense, scoring nine points and grabbing 10 boards in 32 minute effort.
Parsons and Harden combined to shoot 15-of-38 from the floor aiding the Rox to the 41 percent field goal percentage in this contest. Durant lit the Rockets up for 42 points, four assists and five rebounds, accounting for over 25 percent of the Thunder’s field goals, and hitting five of the team’s 11 threes.
In Game 4, the Thunder were once again without Westbrook, and Derek Fisher saw 24 minutes off the bench in his stead. Reggie Jackson again saw big minutes in this contest, 35, and was squaring off with Lin, just as he had in games 1 & 2.
Lin’s effort wasn’t the greatest, but a big night from Harden and Terrence Jones bailed the Rockets out. Lin shot just 3-of-11 from the floor while again having just three assists. Jackson scored 17 points, dished out seven assists, while also grabbing seven boards. Durant had a tougher night hitting only 36 percent from the floor, but he still finished with 28 points due to 11 made free throws, not to mention his six assists and 12 boards.
While Harden and Parsons combined for 62 points, neither hit a good percentage from the floor, combining to go just 14-of-39 from the field together. Harden did get to the line with reckless abandon though, attempting 20 free throws and hitting 17. Beard had seven assists and nine boards, in what could have been a monster triple-double. Asik started in place of Howard, and had nine points and 12 boards, proving again that he is worthy of a starting role, as he now will have one with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Overall, the Thunder just obliterate the Rockets, even without Westbrook. While missing Beverley and Howard (in game 4) only gives the Rockets a bit of a crutch, theoretically Lin should have been able to make up for that deficiency. Jackson, however, is one of the bright young talents in the league and has given a lot of starting point guards trouble.
Yes, it was stated that this wasn’t a foregone conclusion in the opening paragraph. But it seems that assertion is quite false. The Thunder just own the Rockets, period.
Durant met little resistance against a frequently tired Chandler Parsons, and it’s not inspiring to think Trevor Ariza may not be able to do much better. Durant is almost never blocked from mid-range, and once he gets in there, things open up for his teammates. The Rockets may not get swept, but it would be a stretch to imagine more than a five or six game series should the teams eclipse in the playoffs.