The Houston Rockets find themselves trailing 3-0 to the reigning Western Conference champions, and with Russell Westbrook out, a window had seemingly opened for the young team to sneak out with an improbable victory.
The problem for Kevin McHale's squad is that their defense still isn't strong enough. It wasn't strong enough to stop the Thunder when they had their league-leading tandem intact, and it will take vast improvements for Chandler Parsons and company to handle Kevin Durant on the wing.
The ball will be in Durant's hands more, and the scary fact is that this could make the Thunder even more unbeatable. The 6'11" small forward with the 7'7" wingspan is starting to show his silky smooth game is as legendary as the player he's oft-been compared to, The "Iceman" George Gervin.
What can the Rockets do to stop a legend from being born? Is there anything that McHale can do defensively to counter Durant?
The path most coaches would take would be to let Durantula erupt for his 40-plus and try to stop everyone else. Whether that was intended or not, it didn't happen.
Durant got his 41—and his teammates did enough for OKC to sneak out with the 'W.'
The fact that Durant and OKC led by 20 after one quarter put the writing on the wall: This series still belongs to OKC.
We all also know that no team has ever rallied from an 0-3 deficit to come back and win a series. But that shouldn't really alarm Rockets fans. Few had set the bar higher than just winning a game and getting their proverbial feet wet in the postseason.
Key to Series for Houston: Chandler Parsons
Chandler Parsons played better in Game 3 and he tied the game with less than six minutes to go. With the game tied, the Rockets could have emerged with a victory.
Parsons began to further show what is going to make him an All-Star, and it's hard to blame the 2011 second-round pick for "only" putting up 21 points to Durant's 41. While Parsons did turn the ball over five times, he did pick up seven assists and seven rebounds to offset that negative.
Parsons is a very versatile player and people are starting to take notice of his talents. Even Kobe Bryant said, "Parsons has a bright future, and I don't say that about a lot of people" (see video). If the Mamba is buying into Parsons' future, it seems we would be wise to do the same.
Our lady fans agree RT @sbnationnba: Chandler Parsons is so hot right now. Well, he always is. But specifically now as well.— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 25, 2013
He's also taken the notice of a lot of female NBA fans, for whatever that may be worth.
Boyish looks aside, the Scottie Pippen comparisons I've thrown around in the past on B/R live blogs and on my podcast are certainly rendered valid by Parsons' play, but the next thing will be learning to become a truly elite defender.
The former Florida Gator has the defensive skill set, namely the lateral motion, to be an even better defender. There's no saying whether even Pip himself could handle Durant in this series, but Parsons and the Rockets must make Durant work for his shots.
Does Houston Have a Chance?
With OKC's second scoring option essentially now either Kevin Martin or Serge Ibaka, there is chink in the armor.
Can Houston exploit it and steal a game in this series?
Can they even rally from behind and push this the limit, steal Game 7 and move on improbably to the second round?
The entire NBA has struggled with finding answers for Durant, and the Rockets aren't a good defensive team by any measures. But Parsons is on his way to being a very good individual defender.
If with the help of his teammates Parsons can manage to hold Durant under 30 while keeping Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka to less than 30 combined points, then the formula for victory is there.
It would require at least 35 points from the likes of Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins for OKC to have any chance then.
Can the Rockets win Game 4 and push the series back to OKC?
Prevent that—get a usual night from Harden—and this goes back to OKC.
It's tough to imagine a Rockets series win, but repeated efforts like that could render the team victorious even twice. Durant won't let it happen four games straight, though.
Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik needed playoff experience in starting roles. James Harden needed to learn what it was like to be the No. 1 option in a playoff game. All that happened; and the Rockets will come back stronger next year. The experience of having squared off against a talent like Durant will have helped immensely.
All this past tense writing?
There's no sense in writing off this series before it's over. Though Scott Brooks' Thunder led by as many as 26 in the second quarter of Game 3, and by 17 at the half—Houston was right there at the end with a chance to win it, as they tied the game on a shot by none other than Chandler Parsons.
Game 4 will be played Monday, April 29 at 9:30 p.m. ET. Can Parsons and his teammates step up to the challenge of covering Durantula and prolong the Rockets' season?