The first two games have been what we've expected—shootouts. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are scoring buckets and all have intentions of making this series a difficult one for either team. Those talents haven't been the only stars of the series, though. Several other players have stepped up and contributed.
Game 2 proved that the Rockets can run with the Thunder. This should give both Houston and its fans some hope moving forward.
Everything will have to fall into place for Houston to win, but here are some hidden keys to their potential victory that many are not aware of.
With Jeremy Lin potentially missing time in the upcoming games of the series, Patrick Beverley will be a key for the Rockets' chances. He hasn't been the most consistent offensive player this season—he's shot just 41.8 percent from the floor—but he was a huge surprise in Game 2.
Beverley dropped 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 from deep. He even grabbed 12 rebounds (second on the team) and six assists (tied for first on the team).
What Beverley really brings to the Rockets is some much needed defense on the perimeter. Even when Lin is on the court, keeping Beverley in at point guard to defend perimeter players is key. While not a stellar defensive player, he is by far the best defensive guard on the Rockets and can hold his own against a majority of scorers.
Beverley also brings the type of mentality to the Rockets offense that they need—team-first play. While Lin and Harden do well at passing, both still look to score a majority of the time. Beverley only looks to score when the opportunities present themselves. He doesn't force things and isn't afraid to get his teammates involved.
I'm fully of the belief that the Rockets kept Game 2 close because Beverley played 41 minutes and made an impact on both ends of the floor. Even if it means going small, coach Kevin McHale needs to leave Beverley in.
Keeping Greg Smith off the Court
This heading is one that can get interpreted wrong. With that being said, allow me to clarify. Greg Smith is the best power forward option that Houston has at this point in the season. At such a thin position, Smith offers the most in the short term.
The only problem is that the numbers point to him actually being a hindrance in this series. Just take a look at his plus-minus rating in the first two games of the series. In Game 1, he was at a minus-34, by far the worst mark on the team; though to his credit, all five starters posted negative marks.
In Game 2, Smith posted a minus-15. Again, this was the worst on the team. There's something to be said about that, especially when Smith came off the bench and played just 14 minutes.
Keeping him off the court completely isn't a good idea. Chandler Parsons, while a good player, isn't necessarily big enough to compete defensively with most power forwards. Smith isn't a defensive stud, but he has the size to minimize advantages for the opposition.
If Smith plays around 15 or so minutes per game, the Rockets can go small the rest of the time. It worked in Game 2, and it goes along with my assertion that Beverley needs to play more. Beverley essentially took Smith's spot in the starting lineup for the game.
Smith hasn't even been a difference-maker on the court. He's scored six points in each game and is only averaging four rebounds per game. McHale should learn from Game 2 and keep Smith on the bench. It'll work to his advantage.
Stop Trying to Shoot Through Slumps
The Rockets just might be the most inefficient team in the postseason. Harden and Parsons killed the team in Game 2. They dropped 36 and 17 points, respectively, but 17 of Harden's points came from the charity stripe and Parsons had plenty of opportunities to reach the 20-point plateau.
Harden shot a ridiculous 9-of-24 from the field and 1-of-7 from deep. Parsons was even worse. He was 7-of-23 from the field and 3-of-10 from deep. Combined (counting three-point field goals), the two shot an abysmal 18-of-64 from the field—that's a shooting percentage of 28 percent.
Carlos Delfino was inefficient as well. In 36 minutes off the bench, he was 4-of-13 from the field and 3-of-10 from deep.
I know the Rockets are a "run and gun" kind of team, but this type of shooting just needs to stop. Why shoot through slumps? Just look at the results!
Harden has been slumping for the better part of the past two months. He shot 39 percent between March and April and just hasn't been able to find the same stroke he had in the first half of the season. He's the Rockets' main offensive weapon, but I'm not sure he realizes that he's hurting the team by taking so many shots much per contest.
Parsons is generally a semi-efficient player. He shot 48.6 percent from the field this season, though his role most assuredly changed in Game 2 when Lin went down and Harden had trouble putting the ball in the basket. Even so, shooting at such a poor percentage is inexcusable.
The team's two best offensive weapons need to stay within themselves and take high-percentage shots in Game 3 and beyond. The Rockets cannot win the series otherwise.
To Sum It Up...
The Rockets are not in good shape in this series. Oklahoma City is dominant on offense and above-average on defense. They've neutralized the Rockets' secondary stars and have forced Harden to beat them—he hasn't been able to do so.
If the Rockets stand any chance of winning this series, then the aforementioned keys need to be taken into consideration. Beverley's playing time may increase by default should Lin miss time, but he needs to be in the lineup more regardless. It's obvious that McHale values Beverley's play given the way he was handled during the regular season, so my ideas for him should come to fruition.
The final two keys will be the most difficult to accomplish. Smith is the team's best option at power forward, and going small can be detrimental to the success of many teams. He himself has been detrimental to the team, however, so he needs to see less time.
Shooting is what the Rockets do. It's what gave them the NBA's highest-scoring offense and it's how they earned a playoff spot. To stop shooting is to tell the Rockets to change their offensive strategy 84 games into the season. Regardless, there is such a thing as shooting too much.
Houston and Oklahoma City are scheduled to play Game 3 of the series on Saturday, April 27. It'll be interesting to see which of these strategies are implemented.
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