Playoffs 2017: West First Round -- Rockets (3) vs. Thunder (6)

OKC Thunder coach Billy Donovan seeks to solve free throw attempt discrepancy against Houston Rockets

Through three games, Rockets has attempted 22 more free throws than Thunder

Fran Blinebury

OKLAHOMA CITY — Billy Donovan isn’t printing up t-shirts yet or banging on tables.

But three games into the first-round Western Conference playoff series, the Thunder coach says his team is battling against a clear advantage for the Rockets at the foul line.

Even after Oklahoma City won Game 3 Friday night, Donovan made note of Houston taking 33 free throws, including a perfect 18-for-18 night by guard James Harden, who finished with 44 points.

“The thing that we’ve got to really, really try to solve here as a team is the free throw line, just the discrepancy there,” Donovan said. “They get an enormous amount of free throws on what I would consider like, uh, they’re not even act-of-shooting fouls even through they’re in the act of shooting. It’s kind of like, get behind the screens and raise up. I would say it’s not a natural motion and we spend a lot of time trying to work to not foul and it’s been a challenge.”

Harden has shot 44-for-49 at the line in the series. But that’s nothing new since he’s led the league in free throws attempted by a wide margin for the past three seasons.

Through the first three games, the Rockets are 73-for-96 on free throws to OKC’s 60-for-74.

“The number of free throws is something that we’ve got to find a way to solve,” Donovan said. “We’ve done a lot of different things…going into the series, then two days after Game 1. We’ve got to find a solution, because it’s a huge advantage for them in a lot of ways.”

The Rockets simply shrug with the understanding that those complaints mean they have probably taken up residence inside the Thunder heads when it comes to guarding Harden.

“Sure, it’s a mental thing,” said Rockets teammate Eric Gordon, who is experienced at trying to defend Harden in practice. “He is big and strong and has developed the ability to get himself to the basket against just about anybody in the game. There really isn’t a lot that you can do about it.

“Learning to draw in defenders to you and make them put their hands on you is as much a skill as anything else in the game. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. What James has done with his ability to shoot from the outside while getting people to hit him, and driving the ball to the basket while getting them to reach in, makes him almost unstoppable. I can understand the frustration. But that’s their challenge.”

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni laughingly referred to Memphis coach David Fizdale’s “take that for data” rant after Game 2 of the Grizzlies-Spurs series that resulted in t-shirts being sold at the FedEx Forum.

“What (Donovan) is doing is he’s trying to make money,” D’Antoni cracked. “He’s trying to get some shirts going and you’ve got it.

“If I’m the referee, I’m going, ‘Yeah, there’s a foul. Because you foul more.’ Just don’t foul as much and we won’t have a disparity. I don’t know. It’s OK. Everybody does what they do. It’s a normal part of the game.”

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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