It’s nice to fantasize about how James Harden can be incredibly good for 6-7 games in one series and make a fight out of the clash between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets, but in reality, it’s not even close to being a fair fight, with Kevin Durant leading Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to an explosive and dominant start to yet another chase after the NBA championship, running all over a team that doesn’t seem to belong in the same league.
Embarrassing was probably a word many were using. Awkward. Men against children and other cliches were probably used to describe how unfair the contest seemed to be. Greg Smith finished the game in the third quarter with an awful -34, looking destroyed by Ibaka, who was pretty much everywhere, finishing with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks, and some think he might have finished the series. The rest of the Houston team didn’t fair better, as Harden was the only starter in double figures, although it doesn’t mean he had a good game.
The Thunder were on full throttle all night long, and the Rockets couldn’t keep up from the first moment. Their defense really didn’t know what to do with the screens that gave Kevin Durant open look after open look, finishing with 24 points. Russell Westbrook blew by anyone who guarded him, adding 19 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists, leading the Thunder to 120-91 win, and it wasn’t even that close, taking a hint from the depressed looks on the Rockets’ bench.
One interesting aspect of Westrbook’s game that we’ve already touched on this season is possessions when he’s the only one to touch the ball. He was 4-of-11 shot attempts on plays when he was the only Thunder player to touch the ball and 3-of-4 when his shots came off a pass. he Thunder fared well when he passed the ball, shooting 10-of-16 on shots directly from Westbrook passes. I wonder if Scott Brooks is going to show him this stat line between games, and if it even means anything to Westrbook.
There was nothing special about the scheme of things between two teams that don’t really complicate their offenses, and maybe Houston should start to. When it’s simply man against man, team power against team power, there’s no way this series is going to be anything but a very one-sided affair. The Rockets can run with the Thunder to a point, but can’t defend and create successive stops like the NBA finalists can, with playoff experience being also a part of the equation, besides the quality disparity.
Kevin Martin, sometimes feeling like a forgotten man, did his job, although he did miss quite a lot. In such an unfair contest, it didn’t really matter that he took the same amount of shots as both Westbrook and Durant, but made only 33% of his field goal attempts on his way to 16 points. It seemed that everyone else who touched the ball for the Thunder couldn’t go wrong, hitting 41.7% of their three point attempts, with Derek Fisher nailing three in his 12 minutes on the floor.
After game 1, it just doesn’t look like a fair fight, and Durant and Westrbook weren’t even close to their best and sharpest. Unless something drastic changes in the way the Rockets approach these games, it’s going to be a quick yet very painful sweep.