Thunder at Houston Rockets Game 1 Recap – April 16, 2017

HOUSTON — One of the Thunder’s biggest strengths all season, its rebounding and ability to convert second chance points, became its Achilles heel in Game 1 of Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs tonight, a 118-87 loss to the Houston Rockets.

Long rebounds, tip-ins and everything in between fell into the Rockets’ lap on Sunday night, as the Thunder struggled to find Houston players to body up and allowed far too many opportunities around the rim. On top of that, the Thunder allowed Houston’s penetrating guards get into the lane too often, as the Rockets went 31-for-45 in the paint, for 62 total points.

“Defensively our first shot defense was pretty good,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said, prefacing his explanation of the extra effort plays. “The deep paint was a problem for us. We didn’t make good enough decisions in terms of having enough resistance at the basket. Some of it may have been concern about stopping the three. We can do better in those areas.”

Steven Adams explained that he and some of the other Thunder bigs got stuck in no-man’s land in between coming over to help and staying glued onto their own man in pick-and-roll coverages. Thunder players will have to complete a lot of tasks at the same time against Houston, and that will take a relentless attitude.

“It just comes down to hard-nosed effort and making multiple efforts, help side, and then you have to sprint back and box out and make sure you don’t lose sight.

Donovan’s squad responded to an early 12-5 start by the Rockets with a 10-2 burst of their own, eventually building a six-point lead. After a seesaw second quarter, the Rockets created some separation with a 9-0 run that spanned the end of the first half and start of the second half, fueled by two jumpers by James Harden, a put-back by Ryan Anderson and a transition bucket from Patrick Beverley. In the first half alone, the Rockets racked up a 21-0 second chance points edge, while outscoring the Thunder 42-24 in the paint.

“We gave up way too many second chance opportunities,” Donovan said. “They hurt us on the offensive glass.”

Later in the third quarter, the Rockets really started pouring it on, while the Thunder’s offense couldn’t get much going. Even after Adams levelled Beverley with a massive, legal screen, the Rockets’ machine kept humming, ripping off a 23-8 run in the middle stages of the third quarter, ignited by two Beverley threes and the Thunder fouling two three-point shooters.

By the night’s end, the numbers bore out exactly what happened over the course of the evening. The Rockets outscored the Thunder by 24 in the paint, 31-4 in second chance points and 38-29 in bench points. Russell Westbrook finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two steals, but with nine of the Thunder’s 15 turnovers.

“We got to play and do a better job, starting with myself,” Westbrook said. “I got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball and making some shots.”

Andre Roberson, meanwhile, was one silver lining tonight, racking up a playoff career-high 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, while knocking down four threes.

The Thunder will have two practices and a shootaround to go back to the drawing board and find out what precisely went wrong and how to fix it. The Thunder has a number of different options at its disposal, and a variety of ways to play because of it. Over the next few days, it’ll be key to determine which lineups, rotations and combinations, plus strategies will work best in Game 2 and beyond.


Game 1 Thunder Highlights:


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By the Numbers

18 – Points for Andre Roberson, a playoff career-high, on 7-for-10 shooting, including 4-for-6 from three

31-4 – Houston’s edge in second chance points, thanks to a 14-7 edge in offensive rebounds

49.5 – Shooting percentage for the Rockets, including a 35-for-58 (60.3 percent) mark on two-pointers

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The Last Word

“The turning point was not an exact moment, but offensive rebounds and second chance points was what really killed us.” – center Steven Adams

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