Sunday night, the No. 6 seed Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the No. 3 seed Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. This highly anticipated match up features the two front-runners for the 2017 NBA MVP race, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Although the Rockets took care of the Thunder during the regular season, winning the series 3-1, Westbrook out-performed Harden. Westbrook averaged 36.3 PPG, 9.3 APG and 9.0 RPG with two triple-doubles in four games. Where as Harden averaged 20.5 PPG, 12.3 APG and 7.3 RPG with no triple-doubles in the series. Looking at the rest of the series, the underdog Thunder must do three vital things in order to come back from being down 0-1 and take down the fierce Rockets.
1. Westbrook must be the best player on the court
Coming off of arguably the best individual season in NBA history, Russell Westbrook must continue to dominate early and often in the playoffs. With a NBA record, 42 triple-doubles in a season, Brodie has led the Thunder to a 47-35 record, 33-9 when he gets a triple-double. Everyone knows he will bring his all, but he needs to consistently perform at an incredibly high level as well. It’s simple, if he gets himself a triple-double there is a good chance the Thunder will win, a .786 chance, in fact. However, if he does not achieve a triple-double the Thunder’s winning percentage sits at .350. To sum it up, Westbrook alone dictates whether the Thunder win or lose.
2. The Thunder must muffle the Rockets three-point shooting
The Rockets hit a team total of 1181 three-pointers this season, shattering the NBA record. The game has evolved to favor three-point shooting, and the Rockets successfully have proven this notion. The Thunder need to limit the Rockets three ball. If not, it will be tremendously hard to beat a team averaging 14.4 3PG. Defensively, OKC has to lockdown on James Harden, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, all deep ball snipers.
3. The Thunder’s centers have to battle
The Thunder’s centers, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, must compliment the highly skilled backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo. It is crucial that Adams and Kanter dominate the boards, both on offense and defense. If these two can bury second chance shots or kick them out to the perimeter for open looks, Oklahoma City has a good chance of winning games. The Rockets will come out buzzing on offense, the Thunder need to respond with equal, if not more, force, and the Thunder’s big boys play a critical role in creating added offense.
All in all, this series should be highly entertaining. I cannot wait to see how these two superstars, in Russell Westbrook and James Harden, matchup. Ex-teammates, now fierce competitors on the court makes for a great story.
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