In a Game 1 showdown that boasted serious candidates in nearly every major awards category, it was an offensive explosion from Patrick Beverley that paved the way for the Houston Rockets.
Praised before the series for his hard-nosed defending, Beverley’s red-hot shooting effort kept the Rockets afloat after an uncharacteristic 3-for-16 mark from three-point range in the first half. Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Beverley forced Russell Westbrook into an early first quarter turnover and, after he cruised in for the easy layup, the Rockets’ guard couldn’t contain his smile as he jogged back upcourt.
That was only the beginning as Westbrook would finish with a game-high nine turnovers, leaving frustrated and empty-handed as he was pulled in the fourth quarter well into the blowout defeat.
Coming into the series, the Rockets were hoisting 40.3 three-pointers per game, led by the likes of Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Louis Williams and James Harden — but with the sharpshooters hitting at a combined 5-for-23 clip in Game 1, Beverley was more than happy to pitch in. His 21 points — including two back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter after being leveled by a crushing screen from Steven Adams — marked a playoff career-high for the defensive-minded Beverley, outpacing everybody except for the game’s two MVP candidates.
In a strange twist of regular season fates, the Thunder struggled on the rebounding front, ceding an outrageous 31-4 advantage in second chance points to their higher-seeded rivals. Even worse, Billy Donovan had to deal with the headache of Enes Kanter and Adams getting switched onto Harden all night, a result that was met with a highlight-reel crossover more often than not.
But for Oklahoma City, the problems didn’t stop there.
Outside of Andre Roberson’s 18 points, the Thunder were nearly hopeless on offense. Until the game was well into garbage time, Westbrook and Roberson were the only two to reach double figures, joined late by Jerami Grant’s 10 points. For a franchise that desperately needs a sidekick alongside Westbrook to stand a chance in this series, their support in Game 1 just simply wasn’t enough.
Victor Oladipo will need to bounce back in Game 2, and his 1-for-12 shooting effort highlighted the Thunder’s offensive struggle as they managed just 33 points in the second half. In what had originally begun as a tight affair through the first 24 minutes of Game 1, the upset bid quickly lost gas as Westbrook did too. After a strong 15 points in the first half, the giveaways piled up as the All-Star searched for help, ultimately ending the night with 22 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and nine turnovers.
Even with more help, it may not have mattered in this one. Harden closed the game out on fire, simply toying with Grant, Kanter or any other unlucky soul that faced the superstar on the perimeter. Harden would finish with 37 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and three steals, all with Roberson’s talented defense hounding him for much of the contest.
Going into Game 2, the Thunder must do better across the board. For starters, Adams needs more touches in the paint after he had just six points and five rebounds in 28 minutes. For the Thunder, their bread and butter all season has been in the rebounding department — they pulled down 46.6 of them per game, good for first in the NBA — but in Game 1, they were roasted 56-41 on that front.
Put it this way: the Rockets went just 10-for-33 from three-point range in Game 1 and still eased into a 31-point victory. Needless to say, if the Thunder are unable to grab more rebounds, limit second chance opportunities and step up offensively, then this will be a hard-fought four or five game series.
Who Wins Game 2?
It’s hard to see Houston losing on their home court this series, particularly so after their initial performance. Beverley won’t erupt for an efficient 21 points every night, but Anderson, Williams and Gordon won’t go 2-for-12 from deep either. Perhaps there are better days ahead for the Thunder, but Mike D’Antoni abused every positional matchup the Rockets had in this game and things won’t get any easier in Game 2.
During the regular season, the Rockets hit 10 or fewer three-pointers on just 15 different occasions. Over that stretch, they sported a 4-11 record for their poor shooting efforts. In Game 1, Houston barely managed to hit that benchmark, a sign that typically spells trouble for the jump shooting-dependant franchise.
Instead, the Rockets went and won by 31 points — which, for the Thunder, is to say: uh-oh. The Rockets win Game 2 on their home floor.
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