Russell Westbrook Proving to Be Even More Valuable Than We Thought
James Harden made every shot imaginable, Kevin Durant fell short down the stretch, and the Oklahoma City Thunder allowed the Houston Rockets to force a Game 6 in a series that looked to be all but locked up.
The Rockets found themselves out in front by as much as 16 points in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma City clawed their way back to double-digits with just under six minutes left in the game, going into full-on "Hack-Asik" mode.
Oklahoma City fouled Asik on six consecutive possessions in an attempt to get back into the game, but they ran into a problem. Asik made eight of his 12 free throws, while the Thunder countered with just seven points of their own in that stretch.
I'm no Gregg Popovich, but I know that you've got to score more than the player you're hacking in order to make it worthwhile.
Yeah this isn't working, OKC.— SBNation NBA (@SBNationNBA) May 2, 2013
The Thunder ran a considerably predictable offensive set with Durant in the final six minutes, despite the fact that he never scored in the fourth quarter.
Durant would exhaustively take the ball at the top of the key, probe around a bit and dish it off to a teammate whenever the Rockets trapped him.
That worked fine in Game 4, even though the Thunder lost, but Durant just didn't have the help he needed all throughout the game.
Reggie Jackson had a delightfully productive game and Serge Ibaka put forth a normal output, but Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha just didn't bring it.
James Harden outscored Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb 31-3.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 2, 2013
Kevin Durant didn't score in the fourth quarter tonight. Carrying around the Thunder like they're Bran Stark gets tiring, I guess.— Royce Young (@dailythunder) May 2, 2013
Durant's struggles really showed off the crux of Oklahoma City's problem offensively, but there was also a huge struggle on the defensive side of the ball.
The most glaring was the Thunder's inability to guard the three-point shot, as there was a distinct lack of playoff-style pressure that Russell Westbrook brought in the first two games.
That, combined with the fact that James Harden was playing with his beard tonight rather than his brain, meant the Rockets were hitting three-pointers at an alarming rate.
Harden knocked down his first seven long-balls, making 7-of-9 overall, and the Rockets combined to hit 14-of-35 three-point attempts. Compare that to Oklahoma City's 8-of-33, and you'll see what the difference was in the game.
Westbrook's hound-dog defense on the perimeter, along with his extremely long arms and vicious bumps that he tends to give guys before they step up to the three-point line, were sorely missed in Game 5.
Reggie Jackson is built to play defense much like Westbrook does, and he's athletic enough to come up with some big plays, but he doesn't have the reps that Westbrook has in order to instill confidence.
That, combined with Kevin Martin completely forgetting to show up in this game, and you have the imperfect storm brewing for the Thunder.
Even more demanding, the loss of Westbrook meant the loss of one of Oklahoma City's two best slashers. Without him, Durant was forced to work with the inexperienced Jackson and whatever he could get along the baseline from Ibaka.
With Asik in the middle (when Houston can actually form a very formidable defensive unit), there needs to be multiple points of attack in order to keep him guessing.
For the most part, it was all eyes on Durant all night long.
What this game showed us more than anything else, it's that two superstars are better than one, regardless of the fact that one superstar may take a few too many shots and may go into full-on hero-ball mode late in games.
I keep waiting for LeBron to tweet, "Hey KD, now you know why I went to Miami."— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 2, 2013
Durant is only one man, and for him to pick up the slack that Westbrook left behind is going to be a challenge that he grows into. Sometimes he's going to struggle and need his teammates to step up, something they fell woefully short of doing on Wednesday.
So here the Thunder sit, at the crossroads of a series, looking for any way to slow down the inevitable onslaught of offense the Rockets are waiting to unleash at home.
Durant needs all the help he can get to keep them from having to play a Game 7. At the very least, he needs more help than he got in Game 5.
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