The Rockets finished off the Thunder in Game 5 with a 105-99 victory on Tuesday night. Outside of game one, it was a series of games that could have gone either way. The last four games were decided by two possessions or less. While the Thunder was able to hang tough and challenge the Rockets, why were the Rockets able to pull out the nail-biting wins?
In game one the Thunder seemed to be unprepared for the Rockets attack. James Harden was able to pick apart the Thunder defense in pick-and-roll situations and the Thunder had no answer. The Rockets were able to walk away with a convincing 118-87 victory.
The Thunder made adjustments and made the remaining games very interesting. Andre Roberson’s defense on Harden was outstanding, Steven Adams and Taj Gibson did a better job of hedging on pick-and-rolls, and Jerami Grant made the most of his extended role in this series. The Thunder had double-digit leads countless times in the series, but the Rockets were always able to answer.
Harden was spectacular all series averaging 33 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. He found a way to get to the free throw line at will and he made the big plays when they needed them. However, it was the other guys that brought the Rockets success.
While the starting unit for the Rockets did not consistently perform to what we are accustomed to seeing. Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza underachieved most of the series, Clint Capela couldn’t find much success at the rim due to the Thunder adjustments after game one, and Patrick Beverley slowed down after a tremendous start to the series. The Rockets were able to stay afloat because of the phenomenal play of their bench.
When Harden and Westbrook go to the bench, the Rockets were able to turn it up, the Thunder could not. The Rockets can turn to Williams and Gordon, who respectively averaged 18.8 and 13.6 points per game against the Thunder, to run the show and get offensive production. The Rockets were an incredible +13.2 when Harden went to the bench heading into Game 5.
Nene, who also played a huge part in the Rockets success, put up outrageous numbers averaging 13.6 points on 85% shooting from the field. Nene also scored a playoff career high 28 points on a perfect 12 of 12 shooting, along with 10 rebounds and the game-clinching three point play to give the Rockets the victory in Game 4.
The Rockets were able to get key contributions from people outside of their MVP candidate. It was those contributions that proved to be the biggest difference in the entire series. The Rockets had other guys step up and the Thunder couldn’t get anyone not named Russell Westbrook to provide consistent offense. It was the bench that led the Rockets to a hard-fought round one series victory.