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How the Rockets can steal Game 4 vs. the Thunder

James Harden #13, Robert Covington #33 and P.J. Tucker #17 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
James Harden #13, Robert Covington #33 and P.J. Tucker #17 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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James Harden #13, Robert Covington #33 and P.J. Tucker #17 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
James Harden #13, Robert Covington #33 and P.J. Tucker #17 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

With the Houston Rockets losing Game 3 on Saturday, here’s what they will need to do to seize control from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Game 3 of the Houston Rockets‘ opening round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder would best be described as a late-game collapse by the Rockets. With just 59 seconds remaining, the Rockets led 102-97, and were on the cusp of another victory.

The Thunder went on a 7-2 run in the final minute, and won the game in overtime 119-107. The Rockets have themselves to blame for the game going into overtime, however, as they made several mental errors that allowed OKC to get back in the game. Danuel House‘s play in the waning moments of the game was part to blame for the Rockets’ meltdown.

House stepped out of bounds with 30 seconds remaining, missed a free throw, and had a mental lapse in OKC’s last offensive possession, leading to a three from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. But the Rockets were also doomed by poor officiating, as they were plagued by a missed call on an inbounds pass, which clearly went off of Steven Adams.

The Thunder were awarded possession, which led to the three from Gilgeous-Alexander. The Thunder also benefited from an apparent Chris Paul foul in overtime on Ben McLemore, which wasn’t even reviewed by the officials.

Paul also got away with simultaneously delivering an elbow and knee to Austin Rivers. All in all, the referees clearly played a part in the outcome, but the Rockets made just 30 percent of their 3-pointers, which played a part in the game being so close.

The Thunder were bound to give their best effort in Game 3, as falling in an 0-3 hole would essentially mark the end of the series. The Rockets were playing without the services of Russell Westbrook yet again, and they’ll be taking the court in Game 4 without Westbrook, as he continues to recover from a quadriceps injury.

With Game 4 coming on Monday, let’s take a look at what the Rockets will need to do differently to go up 3-1 in the series.

Next: Better shooting

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Better 3-point shooting for Houston Rockets

The Rockets are known for taking more threes than any other team, as coach Mike D’Antoni encourages players to let it fly. The Rockets let off an inordinate amount of triples and have the ability to get hot from long-range, which can be pivotal in the postseason.

But the Rockets haven’t exactly done that in their last two games against the Thunder, as they made just 33.9 percent of their threes in Game 2 and 30 percent of their treys in Game 3.

Part of the issue is that James Harden has struggled to get his 3-pointers to fall of late, as Harden has gone 5-of-24 from deep (20.8 percent) in the last two games combined. Harden still managed to score 38 points in Game 3, so his poor long-range shooting wasn’t the sole cause of the Rockets’ loss. But if Harden can get back to his shooting touch that he displayed in Game 1 (6-of-13 from deep), the Rockets’ chances of victory will improve drastically.

Another part of the issue is the fact that Robert Covington, who the Rockets acquired at the trade deadline, hasn’t been his usual self from downtown.

Covington has proven to be capable of being a 39 percent shooter from deep, as he did during his 2018-19 stint with the Philadelphia 76ers. But RoCo is shooting 4-of-12 from deep in the series against OKC (33.3 percent) and has lost confidence in his ability to let it fly. A good example of this is the fact that he only attempted two shots in Game 3, despite shooting 50 percent from long-range in the contest.

Another part of the problem is the fact that Ben McLemore and Austin Rivers combined to go 0-for-6 from deep in Game 3, which is awful timing in a game where James Harden was struggling to the tune of 3-of-13 from deep.

The data suggests that the Rockets have a high probability of winning when McLemore has his shot falling, as they’re 16-6 when he’s made four or more threes this season. In Game 3, McLemore hadn’t attempted any shots heading into the fourth quarter, which is something we shouldn’t expect to see in Game 4.

Next: Better shot selection from EG

Eric Gordon #10 of Houston Rockets(Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)
Eric Gordon #10 of Houston Rockets(Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

Better shot selection from Rockets’ Eric Gordon

The return of Eric Gordon was highly anticipated, as Gordon has proven to be reliable for the Rockets in past postseasons. Gordon battled injuries all season, but flashed his ability to electrify a game when he scored 50 points against the Utah Jazz earlier in the year.

Gordon was re-injured in the bubble, as he suffered an ankle injury which forced him to miss six of the Rockets’ final eight games of the regular season. In Game 1 of the Rockets’ series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Gordon provided encouraging signs for Rockets fans, as he scored 21 points and added four assists in just 30 minutes of action.

Gordon has appeared to be much slimmer, which has been advantageous as it pertains to blowing past his defender. But Gordon hasn’t been able to avoid the temptation of taking the three, and it’s been on display in each of the last two games, as Gordon has attempted 10 treys in each game.

Gordon went 2-for-10 from deep in Game 3 and went 6-of-14 on his other shots. Game 2 was an even better illustration, as he went 0-for-10 from long-range, while going 6-for-10 on his non-triples.

With Gordon’s renowned ability to get into the lane for higher percentage shots, there’s essentially no reason for him to keep heaving threes that aren’t falling. Gordon didn’t perform well from deep during the regular season either, as he made just 31.7 percent from deep, which is the worst he’s fared since the 2011-12 season.

Gordon was responsible for 22.8 percent of the Rockets’ missed threes in Game 3 and 27 percent of their missed treys in Game 2. By comparison, in Game 1 Gordon attempted just six threes, going 2-for-6, as he opted for better shot opportunities.

Gordon will need to continue to drive to the basket and get points in the paint moving forward.

Next: Better defensive play

Chris Paul #3, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2, Dennis Schroder #17 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Chris Paul #3, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2, Dennis Schroder #17 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Houston Rockets: Containing the Thunder’s guard trio

There has been a lot of talk about the Rockets’ improved defense, and rightfully so, as they’ve clamped down on the Thunder’s guard trio of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dennis Schroeder. The trio went 12-of-34 in Game 1 and combined for seven turnovers, which was the same amount of turnovers the Rockets had as a unit.

In Game 2 the trio went 20-of-44, which is better, but committed seven turnovers yet again. The trio averaged 46.5 points on 11-of-34 from deep (32 percent) through the first two games, which contributed to the Rockets having double-digit wins in each contest.

In Game 3, however, the trio exploded to the tune of 78 points on 39 percent from 3-point range (9-for-23). Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander combined for 53.8 percent from deep by themselves, and SGA was responsible for OKC’s biggest play of the day.

With OKC trailing by one point in the waning moments of the game, Chris Paul drove to the basket, leading Danuel House to leave Gilgeous-Alexander open in the corner in an attempt to help on CP3, and the result was what one would imagine.

https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/08/22/0041900173/654/6adf59d3-3fe9-7660-714c-72550f034872_1280x720.mp4

Gilgeous-Alexander made the shot, giving the Thunder a 104-103 lead. The game eventually went to overtime, and the Thunder went on a tear, outscoring the Rockets 15-3 in overtime.

Part of the reason for the Rockets’ defensive struggles in Game 3 was the lack of Robert Covington on the floor, as RoCo played just 19 minutes due to foul trouble. Covington had the best defensive rating on the Rockets, as he allowed 94 points per 100 possessions, which the Rockets desperately needed.

Covington has averaged two blocks and one steal per game throughout the series, and managed to nab two steals in limited action on Saturday, which tied P.J. Tucker for a team-high.

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The Rockets will need to return to their lockdown defense on Oklahoma City’s guard trio in Game 4, which would likely lead to another victory.

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