Composure in the Clutch,
Thunder Evens the Series
Game Recap: Thunder 108, Rockets 123
An inconsistent night for the Thunder on both ends of the floor gave Houston an open door to control the tempo of the game. In its first taste of Houston’s style of play, the Thunder was bested by the Rockets offense who knocked down 20 3-pointers and was led by a 37-point performance by James Harden.
The Thunder knew coming into its matchup with Houston that the Rockets would present a unique style of play that the squad hadn’t seen thus far in Orlando. With a lineup that features five players all 6-foot-8 or shorter, OKC knew this would be a different game than they’ve been used to.
Early on in Tuesday’s game, the Thunder looked to take advantage of its size in the paint. Specifically, the Thunder’s 6-foot-10 power forward Danilo Gallinari and drew multiple fouls to help OKC get into the bonus early in the first quarter with seven minutes remaining. However, the Thunder struggled to capitalize on that advantage and translate it into a consistent flow of offense.
OKC’s offense sputtered in the first quarter as it adjusted to Houston’s physical, rim-protecting zone defense. OKC shot 1-of-6 from behind the arc and only 6-of-20 (30 percent) from the field in the first quarter. The ball movement stagnated and several of the Thunder’s offensive possessions came down to the final moments of the shot clock resulting in a low-percentage look and a lost possession.
“To start off the possession, we need to bring the ball up a lot faster than we did. We were jogging the ball down a couple of times,” said Thunder center Steven Adams. “The faster we play and the less that they set up in a defense, everyone's going to be a lot more open, they’ll have a bit more freedom.”
The Rockets knocked down 5-of-14 from the 3-point line in the first quarter en route to 20 total makes. The majority of Houston’s points in the first quarter came from behind the arc and the free throw line and by the half, Houston drained 11 3-pointers and went into the locker room with a cushy 16-point lead.
Gallinari continued to exploit Houston’s mismatches with a myriad of different buckets for the Thunder. Whether he slipped to the rim after a screen, shot over the head of shorter Rockets defenders or getting to the free throw line, Gallinari was a constant life-source of offense for the Thunder. He finished with 29 points and 9-of-9 from the free throw line.
“I was just trying to use the height advantage and keep moving,” said Gallinari. “The more you move especially without the ball, the more effective you can be offensively. And that's something that we did pretty well at the beginning of the game, but we didn't sustain it throughout the game.”
In the third quarter, it was Steven Adams who erupted out of the gates with seven consecutive points to trim down the Thunder’s double-digit deficit out of the half. However, while the Thunder’s offense caught some rhythm, its defense struggled to keep up with the flood of 3-pointers from the Rockets. The Rockets’ speed on offense put OKC’s defense in a tough position getting caught on defensive rotations and leaving 3-point shooters open on the perimeter.
Outside of James Harden’s game-high 37 points, the Rockets’ bench chipped in 42 points compared to 27 by the Thunder. Jeff Green led the way for the Rockets’ reserves with 22 points and 3-of-7 from behind the arc as the recipient of multiple drive and kick corner 3-point opportunities. Ben McLemore chipped in 14 points and four 3-pointers of his own.
“Letting the other guys get going is what’s tough, everybody starts feeling good,” said Thunder guard Chris Paul. “Jeff Green got going and if you let all the other guys get touches and get shots, then everybody starts feeling good so we’ll figure it out.”
Midway through the first quarter, the Thunder’s offense dried up. Houston’s zone put the brakes on the Thunder’s ability to get to the rim and generate good looks. In the 12-minute stretch between the middle of the first quarter to the middle of the second, Houston went on a 14-3 run to take commanding control of the game’s tempo. It was long lulls like this one in the Thunder’s offensive rhythm that allowed James Harden and the Rockets to maintain its lead despite their own sporadic dry spells throughout the game.
“We've got to play with a better a better tempo and a better pace,” said Coach Donovan. “Whether we're missing or making shots, we've got to play with a good pace and a good tempo and a good flow. When we don't, we get a little bit bogged down.”
Play of the Game
Danilo Gallinari’s offensive production came at all levels of the floor for the Thunder. In the opening minutes of the game, Gallinari showcased his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim with a sly euro-step to bypass P.J. Tucker and score the Thunder’s first two points of the game.
Stat of the Night20
Houston leads the league in 3-pointers made and 3-pointers attempted. Coming into the game, the Thunder looked to contest as many of those looks as possible. However, OKC found itself caught in the balance of contesting the 3-point line while also taking away Houston’s ability to drive to the rim. On Houston’s attack, the Thunder’s defense rotated to protect the rim but left the perimeter vulnerable for a kick-out 3-pointer which the Rockets cashed in at a 38 percent clip.
“We've got to do a better job at the point of attack especially guarding the basketball,” said Coach Donovan. “I thought we got beat, we got to put in rotations, and they found open shooters and open players and they were able to probably generate a lot of open looks. I think we've got to do a better job containing the basketball off the dribble.”
Quotes of the Night
“It’s game one. We’ve got to feel it out, this is the first team we’ve played like that so we knew it was sort of a feel out game.” –Chris Paul
“The faster we play, the more it helps (our players). The slower we get, the more it’s a little bit of a challenge for us…That’s going to be a key for us, is can we play faster.” –Coach Donovan
The Thunder will have a day of practice to review film and make adjustments on Wednesday. Game two of the series will take place on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. CT.