The Houston Rockets have put to rest all of the upset chatter after their resounding 111-98 game-two victory over the Thunder. Here are the things to watch for as they look to take a 3-0 series lead.
The Houston Rockets put in another dominant performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder with their 111-98 victory on Thursday. Now up 2-0 in the series, the Rockets will look to put the Thunder’s chances on life support with a Game 3 win.
Here are some things to watch for as Space City looks to take a stranglehold on Chris Paul and the Thunder in Game 3.
1. The Houston Rockets eyeing the corners
Life is not fair, and the corner three is no exception. The shot is as valuable as any other three but gets to live 1.75 feet closer to the basket. The Rockets went 8-for-14 on their “cheap” threes and only 11-for-42 on their real threes.
The Rockets showed last night that they could go cold from deep, missing 15 consecutive threes, so continuing to hunt the cheap ones will be crucial. P.J. Tucker went 4-for-4 from three, and it’s because he’s always looking for the easy three in the corner.
2. Lock-down paint defense
In Game 2, the Rockets lost the points-in-the-paint battle 36-to-34 but won the war. OKC was held to 56.6 percent shooting at the rim when the league average is 63.5 percent. Micro ball wasn’t supposed to be able to defend the paint this well, and here the Rockets are protecting the rim like they have a seven-footer.
This level of interior defense makes the Rockets almost unbeatable and is even more impressive when done against this Thunder team. Oklahoma City’s offense is built around penetrating guards in Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeious-Alexander and jumbo-sized finishers in Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari.
The Rockets use team defense to their fullest abilities to keep opponents guessing and do a great job of swarming the paint. Here, they use their numbers to block off the paint and force an off-balance floater from Schroder.
3. Containment of Chris Paul’s passing
The greatest point guards kill you with their passing, and Chris Paul is John Wick. Thus far, however, the Rockets have been Teflon. On Thursday night, they held Paul to only two assists from his 55 passes — down from his regular season average of 6.7 assists from 52 passes.
Over the first two games, Paul has been passing more and assisting less, and the Thunder’s offense has struggled as a result. With Chris Paul on the court, the Thunder were outscored by 36 points. Here, the Rockets’ hyper-active defense forces Paul to make an off-balance pass that Adams can’t handle.
4. Make Steven Adams Extinct
The Houston Rockets are forcing Billy Donovan to make a tough decision: Keep trotting Steven Adams out there to get eviscerated by the Rockets or bench him and remove your franchise’s most tenured player.
In reality, Donovan should bench Adams, but out of respect, he’ll likely wait too long to pull the plug on the massive Kiwi. The Rockets have outscored the Thunder by 29 points when Adams has been on the court. Adams is a valuable player, but he is killing the Thunder against the Rockets.
If the Rockets can perform even close to the level they’ve been playing in the first couple of games in the series, they should be looking at moving onto round two very soon.