The Rockets were expected to beat the Thunder, and that they did. It is how they beat them though, that is impressive. As I explained in my playoff preview, I was not confident the Rockets were capable of winning a series relying strictly on their shooting. Well, the Rockets were as putrid from the 3 point line as New Orleans air all series long. Part of that was the Thunder defending the 3 ball very well, but many misses were of the wide open variety.
Mike D’Antoni showed some playoff coaching moxy and changed schemes. The Rockets scored inside, packing the paint with Nene turning back the clock about 10 years, and guys that usually camp outside, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, were slashing, driving, attacking, and most importantly, rebounding!
The team defense this series was the most encouraging takeaway. As much as Russell Westbrook lit up the stat sheet, when it mattered most in 4th quarter crunch time of every game, he looked like a chump. His Thunder teammates are not as awful as ESPN makes them out to be, but they got shut down, inside by Clint Capela’s reach, and outside with quick close outs by the perimeter defenders.
I’ve seen just about enough Russell Westbrook as I need to for the next two years or so, but my take on him is this: He is easily the best combination of athlete, scorer, rebounder, and passer in the entire NBA (maybe ever), but he is far from the best, or most valuable, player in the NBA. Brodie, Ninja Turtle, whatever you want to nickname him, seems like a nightmare to play with. He is the reason his supporting cast is weak, he commandeers so much when he is on the floor that his teammates are completely dumbfounded when he is not. His 4th quarter hero ball routine (he’d take 20 shots, make about 4) effectively shot his team right out of the game. I’ve never witnessed this much of lack of trust in your running mates since Bobby Brown and New Edition. The exchange between Russell and Patrick Beverly last night tells the whole story:
– RW: “No one can guard me, I got 40 points”
– PB: “That’s nice, it took 34 shots to get it”
I’ve never heard of an all timer keeping track of his points during a game, rather than the scoreboard. Kevin Durant is not a sellout, he’s a genius.
Onward and upward! San Antonio/Memphis next round, cheers to them for beating up on each other for 7 games!