The Houston Rockets are in dire need of a big-time performance from superstar James Harden to retain any hope of keeping their season alive and surviving a first round matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Rockets have fought back from big deficits in games two and three of the series, seeing both efforts fall just short in the waning minutes.
Houston does find a small glimmer of hope with the absence of Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who will miss the rest of the playoffs after undergoing knee surgery. The injury is a recent setback that has forced the Oklahoma City offense to run almost exclusively through forward Kevin Durant. This will make the offensive attack of the Thunder must easier to defend for Houston. It remains to be seen if the Rockets can do enough to neutralize the damage done by Durant.
Coach Scott Brooks played Durant nearly every second of game three. This was a necessity with his squad missing Westbrook for the first time all season.
The Rockets can expect a similar Thunder game plan in game four, and must exploit this to prevent an end to their season Monday night at Toyota Center.
The Thunder’s two headed attack has been effectively cut in half, and Houston can concentrate more defensive pressure on Durant. Reggie Jackson, Westbrook’s replacement, is serviceable but does not warrant nearly as much respect defensively.
All that said, the Thunder are simply a superior basketball team. If Durant comes out shooting well, it may pose too steep a mountain for Houston to climb.
Houston will need big shooting nights from Harden and Chandler Parsons to hang with the Thunder. The Rockets are a team that live and die by the three-pointer, a shot that hasn’t been working in this series.
Houston shot 36.6 percent from behind the arc during the regular season, a number that has fallen to just below 28 percent in their series with the Thunder. The Rockets are a team that can score feverishly when shooting well from the perimeter. Houston will need these shots to fall if they’re looking to extend their season and send the series back to Oklahoma City.
The Thunder are salivating at the idea of this first round series ending in a sweep Monday night in Houston. With more responsibility and playing time coming Durant’s way, Brooks would like to get his star as much rest as possible as they head deeper into the Western Conference playoffs.