The Houston Rockets thoroughly outplayed the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, winning 107-100 and forcing a Game 6 on Friday.
At this point, it’s clear that the Russell Westbrook injury has hurt OKC more than we ever imagined.
Even with Westbrook, the Thunder were prone to long stretches of stagnant and isolation-heavy offence. They were 8th-worst in the NBA in assist rate with Westbrook, but it didn’t matter because he and Durant are such exceptional individual offensive players.
They never developed a successful offensive system that could exist independent of those two star players because they never had to.
But as we’ve seen in the last three games, when you take Westbrook of out of the equation, the whole thing falls apart.
They’ve tried to use Reggie Jackson to approximate Westbrook, but he has been hit-and-miss and his insertion into the starting lineup has had a domino effect on the second unit.
Kevin Durant is the second-best player on Earth. But Houston has shifted its entire defence toward him, and the Thunder have been utterly unable to adapt and use the Rockets’ focus on Durant against them.
But even though OKC isn’t as good as usual on offence, they’re still averaging ~109 points per 100 possessions since Westbrook went out. Part of that is Houston’s awful defence, but that number is equivalent to a top-8 offence in the regular season.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Thunder have missed Westbrook mightily on defence.
Since the blowout in Game 1 Houston has decided to go small, playing Francisco Garcia and Chandler Parsons at power forward. That has forced OKC to remove one of their defensive-minded big men (Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka) in favour of a guard.
And more times than not, that guard has been the ageing and defensively suspect Derek Fisher.
After playing 11 minutes in Game 1 and 6 minutes in Game 2, Fisher has averaged 27 minutes in the three games since Westbrook got hurt.
Houston won two of those games, lost one in the final seconds, and averaged 111+ points per 100 possessions.
Last night, OKC coach Scott Brooks lost so much faith in his defence that he deployed the “Hack-Asik” strategy — intentionally fouling Rockets centre Omer Asik in lieu of trying to play defence.
It was a joke:
TNTThe Thunder will probably still win this series.
Durant is good enough to win one of these games by himself, and the Rockets are still a terrible defensive team.
But going forward OKC has all sorts of problems. Since Westbrook went down, they’ve been unable to do the things they did successfully with him, and there doesn’t appear to be a fully developed Plan B.
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