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James Harden, Rockets Beat Chris Paul, Thunder 123-108 for Lopsided Game 1 Win

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2020

Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker (17) celebrates with guard James Harden (13) after making a three-pointer against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Kim Klement/Associated Press

Coming into the NBA postseason, there were major questions about how the Houston Rockets would fare while Russell Westbrook was sidelined with a quad injury. 

If Tuesday night was any indication, the Rockets should be just fine. 

Led by another vintage James Harden performance and a strong night from their role players, the Rockets smoked the Oklahoma City Thunder 123-108 in Game 1 of their first-round series.

Mike D'Antoni told reporters Tuesday the team didn't have a timeline for Westbrook's return against his former team, but players like Eric Gordon, Ben McLemore and Jeff Green more than picked up the slack, combining for 57 points.

Add in a solid defensive performance and the Rockets were able to cruise. The Thunder will need to make some major adjustments ahead of Game 2.

              

Key Stats

James Harden, HOU: 37 points, 11 rebounds, 6-of-13 from three

Eric Gordon, HOU: 21 points, four assists

Jeff Green, HOU: 22 points, six rebounds, four assists

Danilo Gallinari, OKC: 29 points

Chris Paul, OKC: 20 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, two steals

Steven Adams, OKC: 17 points, 12 rebounds

                    

James Harden Did His Thing

It's no secret that the Rockets want to let Harden go to work in isolation, or that he's either going to drive the basket or take a stepback three. 

But knowing it and stopping it are two entirely different things. 

Harden was excellent yet again Tuesday night, dramatically outplaying Paul and carrying the load for the Rockets. Yes, he crucially had a lot of help, but Harden got his postseason off to a strong start. 

And that brought out all the takes:

Kendrick Perkins @KendrickPerkins

Ladies and Gentlemen we are now witnessing the BEST SCORER in the NBA!!! James Harden CANT be Guarded. Jesus Christ.

nick wright @getnickwright

We can debate about Harden’s “clutchness” or playoff shortcomings, but he is inarguably one of the 5 best scorers of the last 50 years & anyone who says differently is simply wrong.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

"James Harden is the best one-on-one player I've ever seen in my life." - Chuck (via @NBAonTNT) https://t.co/2Wsv3CyooF

Hardwood Paroxysm @HPbasketball

Harden was great in the Utah series, but honestly, given his work defensively and fending off runs, this is one of his better playoff games.

Chris Mannix @SIChrisMannix

James Harden is just playing pop-a-shot out there.

Oklahoma City will be hoping to have Luguentz Dort back for Game 2 after he was unavailable Tuesday. Nobody else on the Thunder had much luck slowing down Harden.  

                 

OKC Needs Much More From Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder

Paul shook off a slow start to nearly record a triple-double, and Gallinari was excellent throughout, but SGA and Schroder really struggled Tuesday. 

Scoring just nine points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field is not going to cut it from SGA, while Schroder (six points, 3-of-12 shooting) was even worse. 

Granted, Oklahoma City's offensive game plan was questionable, as the Thunder spent too many possessions eschewing any sort of movement for one-on-one play. That sort of strategy works when you have a player like Harden and a supporting cast specifically structured to play around him.

Dan Devine @YourManDevine

If CP3 doesn’t have the juice to puncture that shell outside, Schroder and SGA need to, because if Houston doesn’t have to collapse and rotate, the offense is just going to remain stagnant.

Keith Smith @KeithSmithNBA

A lot of OKC's offense relies on getting opponents switched into obvious mismatches. Problem against Houston is the Rockets switch all of it and happily live with whatever the resulting matchup is. That's why the Thunder look so stuck in the mud on offense so far tonight.

John Schuhmann @johnschuhmann

Rockets' half-court defense has been terrific & switching everything obviously keeps CP from getting to his spot. They can be beat in transition, but the Thunder aren't inclined to run.

It didn't work for OKC on Tuesday, however, in large part because SGA and Schroder were poor.  

              

What's Next?

These teams will clash again in Thursday's Game 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.  

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