The Houston Rockets lead the Oklahoma City Thunder 2-0 and it’s impossible to decide which of the two losses hurt the Thunder more. Nothing heals better than good old home cooking, so perhaps the home fans’ support will help them get back into the series. The Rockets are looking for the back-breaking third win, so Friday game is going to be almost as decisive as if it were the 7th game.
Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder Game 3
LINE: Oklahoma City -3 (-102); moneyline -141
Total: 224 (-108o, -103u)
The Rockets struggle in Game 2, still take the win
The Houston Rockets’ 115-111 win marked the fourth time in 2017 that they played the Thunder at home and they’ve won each time. However, this was the only time they had troubles getting the shots they like and, subsequently, scored the fewest points. The number is far from low, but it did look right for the Rockets.
Harden was forced to give up the ball quickly, usually laying it off to a screener (Anderson mostly, but others as well), who then played something of a secondary play-maker. It didn’t worked very well, despite the usual initiative – more precise Harden’s passing would have gained them an advantage, but they threw it all over the place – as the players were tentative with their decisions, giving the Oklahoma City defense time to rotate enough to bother the shooters.
Anderson was unable to hit anything, finishing 1-of-8, and Capela and Ariza combined to score just 11 points. Those who were more decisive, Gordon and Lou Williams, managed to help their team get over the hump and take the lead in the fourth quarter.
Both shot an identical 8-of-14 and combined for 43 points off the bench. Harden played smart ball, taking his limited opportunities and using the aggressiveness of the Thunder defense to his advantage, scoring 18 of his 35 points from the charity stripe. Still, he was a bit too slow to react to what the defense is throwing at him and it led to game-high 7 turnovers. The worst figure was also 7 – Houston scored just 7 points in transition, a figure they’ll surely like to increase in the following games.
Defensively, the Houston Rockets couldn’t replicate the Game 1 production. Beverley and Ariza backed off of Westbrook on his first action dribble, leaving him much space to elevate and take what was basically an open jumper most of the time. With the attention he draws, the Rockets were also caught sleeping by cutting players or forgot to put a body on their guy after a shot, allowing 17 offensive boards to their foes. They ended up taking 19 less field goals as a result. They’ll look to improve their focus on these errs, but are unlikely to change their defense in the next game.
Not counting Anderson’s dismal shooting, the Houston Rockets have shot the ball well, but still took far less three pointers than they usually do. They were an average 11-of-29, but 11-of-22 minus Anderson. Overall, they shot 38-of-78, solid, but not an elite offensive performance but a usually elite offensive team.
Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Date/Time: Friday April 21th, 2017. 9:30 PM ET
TV Coverage: ESPN
Oklahoma City one step away from changing their name to Westbrooks
After leading by double digits throughout most of the game, the Oklahoma City Thunder ceded Game 2 to the Rockets, 111-115. It was a very different game from the first one, but the reason for the final result was still the same. Asking your best guard to do everything has never really worked and the biggest ball hog of all time, Russell Westbrook has tried to do exactly that in Houston.
If you haven’t watched the game, you’ll probably read about a historic 50 points triple double or how he played well for three quarters and got tired in the fourth. It’s just the media interpretation of what has happened. The reality is, Westbrook was again playing one-on-five basketball, arrogantly believing that everybody else should bow down to him. It’s impossible to describe the selfishness and the body language that accompanies it. He took 42 shots, had the 2nd highest usage in a playoff game in the last 30 years and lost the game for the Thunder by missing 14 field goal attempts in the fourth quarter.
Harden took 17 shots the entire game. Westbrook missed 14 in one quarter alone. But it’s not just one quarter like the media is trying to tell you. Those were forced, bad shots like the ones he took in the 3rd quarter. The difference is that he’s hit too many of them in the period preceding the cataclysm.
And the Thunder shouldn’t have lost the game. They played great defense on Harden, confusing him with traps and keeping the Rockets indecisive on whether they should pass the ball or shoot it. They were in complete control, as long as their star played with it. They played an excellent first half. Westbrook had 22 points on 15 field goals and his teammates were able to succeed alongside him.
Five other Thunder players hit the break with either seven or eight points, and the team combined to shoot 26-of-47 from the field and 13-of-14 from the line with only four turnovers. Then he decided that he’ll play alone on the offense in the third quarter, and it worked, the Thunder were keeping their lead. But the other players cooled off and when Westbrook sat for a quick breather, nobody was ready to take over. This scenario was seen so many times that the Thunder should have learned from it, but somehow, they are just trying to do the same thing over and over again and hope that it will bring a different result.
Here come the stats for the previous game, but in a slightly different way. Westbrook scored 51 points, shooting 17-of-43 (39.5%) on field goals and 2-of-11 on three ball, also hitting 15-of-18 free throws. The rest of the Thunder scored 60 points, shooting 23-of-54 (42.6%) on field goals, 5-of-19 on threes, and 9-of-10 freebies. Westbrook also had 4 turnovers, while the rest of the OKC players had 3 combined.
Roberson did amazing work on Harden defensively (with help of his teammates), and managed to finish the game with 12 points, 8 rebounds (7 of which came at the offensive end), 2 steals and 3 blocks. Defensive problem with Kanter was solved in the most uncreative way – he didn’t play if Harden was in the game.
OKC coaching staff tried to keep their defensive 4 as mobile as possible, to be able to rotate to shooters after playing the pick and roll by sending the double team on Harden, so they used Jeremi Grant as the other big. The tactics malfunctioned, as the Thunder was outscored by 20 points during his 26 minutes of play.
Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder Game 3 Trends & Prediction
The Houston Rockets are 43-41 against the spread and have covered only once in the last 11 games. They are also 0-5 in their last five road games, spoiling what was a great road ATS record. They are 24-17 against the spread on the road the entire season. The Rockets don’t offer any edge on the total point market sides, sporting a 42-41-1 O/U record, as they fight 225-230 lines with rare exceptions. There are no significant recent trends either.
The Thunder covered by 3.5 points, aided by a large handicap, and showed that the difference between two teams isn’t all that sizeable. They increased their ATS record to a very positive 46-37-1 for the season and are moving to the place they play their best. On their home court, OKC Thunder are 26-14-1 against the spread. Combined with the recent road struggles of the Houston Rockets, it’s a clear opportunity to follow a trend. The points went over the projected line in the last game, but barely, so there’s not much work to do for the bookies there. OKC are 38-45-1 on the total point market, but the many unders have come on the road. At home, they are 21-20 this season.
The books have set the Thunder as a 2-point favorite, seemingly quite a change after supporting their side with 8-point spreads in Houston, but a closer look explains the shift. While a +0.3 team this season overall, Oklahoma City win by over 6 points on average at home. Houston don’t have such a big difference depending on the venue, but it still shows how big of a home court advantage it is for the Thunder. I’ve set the spread to -2.5 for this game, as it’s a game the Thunder simply have to win, so there’s no space to go for the Houston Rockets bet again. Over paid off last time, but it will be a bit harder to get it this time, as the total points line is slightly increased and I have to adjust to Kanter’s low minutes and Houston’s issues with the ball movement, but it’s still the only option to go after.
My Pick: Pass
Total: Over 222.5 (-125)
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