The Biggest key to victory
What’s most encouraging for the Rockets’ chances is that they don’t need to consistently beat the Thunder’s best lineup to gain an edge in the series — they just have to not get blown out of the water.
For the season, the Thunder have outscored their opponents by 4.5 points in the 6.7 minutes that Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander share the court but only average 1.99 more points than their opponents per game.
That means during the 41.3 other minutes, the Thunder are being outscored by 2.51 points. The Thunder’s record, in large part, is due to their absolute dominance over a 6.7 minute period each game. Any slip in effectiveness would have seen the Thunder tumbling towards a play-in game.
The ace in the hole for the Rockets is their superior star power. James Harden has yet to encounter a defense he cannot dismantle, and there is not an entity in this galaxy or the next that can stop Westbrook from getting to the rim. The Rockets’ spread-out micro-ball offense is primed to expose the Thunder’s defensive shortcomings.
The secret sauce for the Thunder’s power lineup has been the fact that most teams don’t have enough perimeter speed and length to match up with three point guards. However, the Rockets are unique and have doubled down on lineups full of perimeter players, which negates the advantages the Thunder typically enjoy.
In many ways, the Rockets are the worst matchup that the Thunder could have drawn. The loss of Russell Westbrook for an extended period could derail the Rockets chances against the Thunder. However, if Westbrook can play five games out of the seven, then the Rockets will be well equipped to dismantle the Thunder’s best lineup.
When the series is done and dusted, Billy Donovan might be shaking his head at the fact that the Thunder could have lost one more game and gotten the chance to run the jumbo-sized Nuggets off the court. Matchups are everything in the postseason, and this one favors the Rockets.