Rockets authority blow in the morbid series

D'Antoni's men managed to manage the game times and impose their usual dizzying pace in attack. The Thunder missed the best Paul and were shipwrecked on defense.


Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook reversed their paths last summer in one of the most controversial transfers of recent years in the NBA. The loss of his franchise player drove Billy Donovan's Thunder out of the playoff pools. However, Oklahomans managed to turn the odds around and finish fifth in the West. Coincidence or not, the Westbrook Rockets would be his first opponent on his way in the final rounds and the Californian, down. Beyond the curiosity due to the reunion of the discord between Paul and Harden, the tie started without a clear favorite. However, the first stake once again contradicted the forecasts.

The Rockets were superior from the start of the game, being able to manage the times and allowing themselves the luxury of seeing how the Thunder made up 20-point income by half. However, those precise moments of success from Donovan's were nothing. The Houston team started the duel with the eternal doubt of which player was the most suitable to replace the sensitive loss of Westbrook.

House would be the chosen one but Eric Gordon (21 points) would be the one who would excel in the scoring facet. D'Antoni was very clear about the recipe for victory and that is how he applied it throughout the match. The Mullens coach based his strategy on exterior success and demanding zone defense, focusing all efforts on trying to protect the paint tooth and nail. On an offensive level, Houston gathered 5 open players during the 48 minutes, leaving the paint free for the penetrations of its star man. The approach could not have been better from the first minute.

The Rockets showed from the beginning that constant desire to try to add from the perimeter, they shot 8 triples more than their rival in the first quarter. While in defense, they managed to shield the outer zone, not the low post in which Adams and Gallinari managed to extract oil from their superiority at the height level with respect to their defenders. Despite this, the Thunder stayed at 20 points, 13 of them from New Zealander and Italian, and they finished the first 12 minutes already 8 behind the Rockets. The defensive plan did not come out in Donovan's. The defense of Ferguson's man over Harden was a fiasco and the Californian did and undid at ease finishing the game with 37 points.

The second 12 minutes did nothing more than reaffirm and consolidate what was seen at the start of the duel. In the first 150 seconds of the quarter, the Rockets reaped a 9-0 run, placing 17 points up. A too demanding handicap despite the amount of time left. And is that the Rockets did not show signs of weakness. Donovan's people were still absolutely bewildered by the panorama that had been presented to them. The defensive intensity and brilliant application of zonal defense made every Thunder attack an ordeal for Donovan's.

Despite this, Chris Paul and his team had a final outburst of pride with a 9-0 run in just a minute and a half, reducing the deficit from 20 to 11. Everything was a mirage. Harden, Gordon and a triple by Jeff Green quelled Oklahoma's hopes before the break. Precisely the work of the 2 substitutes with the most presence on the court for the Rockets was decisive. Jeff Green and McLemore contributed 36 points between the 2 coming off the bench, while the 5 substitutes who scored for the Thunder added 27 points. The bench played a fundamental role.

With the players on their way to the changing rooms, the referees whistled a technique to Chris Paul, desperate and missing during the 37 minutes he was on the court. Despite being a triple-double assist, Paul was not the Paul of the regular season in which he knew how to command his team. He was seen to be blurred and outmatched, with low scoring percentages and far from his best level. A not presented in full rule.

In the third quarter, the game became a real runner-up that hurt the Thunder even more. Those of Donovan are not made to propose parties of this type and the initial approach was blown up. Despite this, they kept the type in the set, thanks to the only 2 players who knew how to play their role. Both Gallinari and Adams began to appear more assiduously and continued to add to their scoring double digits. The Italian finished with 29 and the New Zealander with 17 points.

The Rockets took the third set and with 12 minutes left they were 21 up. The last quarter was a formality. Although the coaches were somewhat suspicious of rotations, they finally opted to give space to the less common. It was a last quarter of alternatives and short sets by both teams that ended up taking Donovan's. In this way, the Rockets are ahead in the series and will seek next Thursday (9:30 p.m. Spanish time) to reaffirm the solidity shown in the first duel. Westbrook will remain out and Dort could return to the Thunder with a mission to act as a Terrance Ferguson who was outmatched in his goal of keeping Harden at bay.

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