The nature of the “bubble” already creates uncertainty and unpredictability, but this series even more so,because it as a “next man up” element to it. With no return timetable officially announced for Rockets point guard Russell Westbrook and his quad injury, a lot falls on Robert Covington, and Eric Gordon to step up and carry more of the offensive load. It hasn’t been a great year for Eric Gordon, shooting under 32% from downtown, but he’s a veteran sniper who’s been doing it long enough to contribute along side James Harden.
Chris Paul has made the surprising Thunder squad a deadly threat. Paul’s teammates know their role, and are confident in them too. He’s got help in the form of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and sniper Danilo Gallinari. Even rookie Darius Bazley has been contributing for the second squad. Dennis Schroeder is 6th man frontrunner, and with the ball often in CP3’s hands, it reduces the chances for careless mistakes and turnovers, which young squads are so accustomed to doing. What they lack in overall talent, the Thunder make up for with consistency and hustle.
The Thunder won’t beat themselves; you have to bring you’re A game to beat them. It’s expected that James Harden will bring just that, especially with Russell Westbrook injured. Harden has averaged better than 28 points per game against the Thunder this season. He also averages 5 assists per game against OKC. Both Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will have to run Harden off the 3 point line to win. Additionally in order for the Thunder to win they have to make a choice. Either allow Harden to go off and not let the other Rockets such as Gordon, Austin Rivers, Ben Mclemore or Covington beat them or get the ball out of Harden’s hands and make the other Rockets beat them. The Rockets live and die by the 3. The big question will be whether the Thunder will play small ball and sit Steven Adams or post Adams against the much smaller PJ Tucker.
That will most likely be decided by trial and error, but don’t be surprised if the Thunder go small to match the Rockets. For the Thunder to win they’re going to off the chase the Rockets off the 3 point line. Chris Paul is going to have to limit turnovers and they’ll need key scoring from Gallinari, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Schroeder. Gallinari has averaged a pinch under 22 points a game against Houston. Gilgeous-Alexander has scored about 19 per game against the Rockets and Schroeder has averaged a solid 20 against them too. The Thunder floor general Chris Paul is also averaging 20 against the Rockets. As can be seen the Thunder’s key players do well playing Houston.
For the Rockets to win they’re going to have to limit turnovers and keep Chris Paul from unleashing a double double. They’re going to have to get big games from James Harden and hit a high percentage of their 3’s. They can’t allow all 4 of OKC’s key players go off. They may have to put PJ Tucker on Danilo Gallinari and have Covington guard Adams. Slowing down either Gilgeou-Alexander or Galinari will be key for Rockets to win this series.
All in all, these teams are as evenly matched as can be and it should be a fun series to watch.
Enjoy the Games!