Since more than half of the NBA’s 30 teams make the playoffs, a few below-average squads inevitably sneak in. On Wednesday night, one of those mediocre teams dragged a superior opponent down to its level.
The Houston Rockets are mediocre not in terms of talent, but in their offense’s utter lack of sophistication. Their game plan has all the cleverness of a pickup run at the local gym. In Game 2 of their first round series against Oklahoma City, they convinced the host Thunder to run an equally primitive scheme.
The result was a sloppy 105-102 Thunder victory that put the Western Conference’s top seed up 2-0 in the series. Careful Oklahoma City observers saw some encouraging signs, but found plenty of concern in the too-close victory.
Encouraging . . . Thunder role players hit the game’s two most critical shots: Thabo Sefalosha’s three-pointer with just over a minute left gave his team a four-point lead, and Serge Ibaka’s 18-foot jumper with 31.2 seconds remaining pushed the lead to five.
Concern . . . Those two shots came about because after five years of playing together, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook still don’t have an offensive set that can reliably produce a quality look when needed most.
By the end of Game 2, the two All-Stars were barely even bothering to run the simplest pick-and-rolls, preferring to take turns holding the ball, staring down a defense that had plenty of time to set itself, and then trying to beat a defender off the dribble.
Encouraging . . . The Thunder once again proved capable of big scoring runs, like the 12-0 spurt that closed out the third quarter.
Concern . . . The hosts allowed a 16-0 run in the latter half of the fourth quarter that actually left them staring down a 95-91 deficit with less than three minutes to go. A simplistic offensive team like the Rockets shouldn’t be able to run off that many unanswered points against a strong defensive team.
Encouraging . . . The Thunder allowed Houston to shoot a mere 28.6% (10-35) on three-pointers.
Concern . . . Over half of those 35 attempts were open looks that Chandler Parsons and Carlos Delfino (each 3-10 from beyond the arc) simply misfired. Compounding the problem, the Thunder hoisted 35 of their own three-point attempts, hitting only 11 (31.4%). Kevin Durant connected on two of his nine tries from deep, while Russell Westbrook went 1-7.
It’s dangerous to condemn the result without looking at the process; in this case, though, many of the Thunder’s long-distance heaves caused knowledgeable fans to cringe even as the shooter lined up his look.
Encouraging . . . Reggie Jackson continued his late-season run of strong play, holding the fort with accurate shooting, tough rebounds, and passable playmaking during his 19 minutes.
Concern . . . Jackson played more than his usual run because Westbrook picked up three foolish fouls in the first half, and could have been called for at least two more. This game became a playground battle quickly, and Russell was all too happy to ride the unstructured wave.
Game 3 awaits on Saturday night in Houston, where the Thunder should hope for more success in resisting the level of its opponent.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.