Houston at Oklahoma City
Time: 8:30 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: OKC -2
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Houston Rockets leaped out to a 2-0 lead in the best of seven series by winning Game 1 by 31 points and narrowly escaping defeat in Game 2 to win by a margin of four. NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes expect a reversal in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s fortune as Russell Westbrook and company return home. The Thunder enter Game 3 as 2-point favorites in a game with an expected high over/under of 224.
While it somewhat tough to gather why oddsmakers have this confidence in the Thunder to turn things around, perhaps it should not be. Russell Westbrook has been his typically dominant self, and this could be a swing game in the series if the Thunder can, in fact, prevail to win its first game of the series. Westbrook attempted a record-setting 18 field goals in the fourth quarter of Game 2, a strategy widely criticized (reportedly even by teammate Victor Oladipo in postgame comments off-record). Westbrook finished Game 2 with an astounding triple-double, scoring 51 points to go with his 13 assists and 10 rebounds.
Oladipo, meanwhile, went largely ignored down the stretch, finishing the game 4 of 14 from the floor for 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists. If Westbrook is to reverse the fortune of his team, it will require getting only getting Oladipo more involved, but also stimulating some offense from the Thunder’s other auxiliary talents. Enes Kanter has been a near non-factor in this series after garnering attention for the Sixth Man of the Year award din the regular season. Kanter played just eight minutes in Game 2, while the Thunder’s bench produced close to nothing outside of Doug McDermott’s 11 points.
Westbrook attempted 43 field goals, while the team managed 97 total. Those figures must shift to a more team-oriented approach, and perhaps that is the biggest adjustment head coach Billy Donovan can make. But with a player as dominant as Westbrook, can one justify an argument for lowering his usage rate in Game 3? Moreover, is Westbrook not on some sort of one-man mission to disprove any claims that Houston’s James Harden may have had to the (already voted upon) league MVP award?
Harden, for his part, has been brilliant as well, make no mistake. The Bearded One produced 35 points on 7 of 17 shooting, but he got to the line for 20 free throws in Game 2 (hitting 18 of those). In addition, he dished out eight assists and snagged four boards, while finishing with a +2 differential in his 37 minutes on the court.
Starting guard Patrick Beverley has quietly been a key for the Thunder, and he had 15 points, four assists and six boards after perhaps the best performance of his NBA career in Game 1. For all those asserting Harden has been a one-man show in Houston, it shows a high level of ignorance to ignore the role played by Beverley and other complementary pieces like Eric Gordon and the defensive-minded 5-man Clint Capela.
Gordon scored 22 off the bench on efficient 8 of 14 shooting, and while Capela accounted for just seven points, he had four blocked shots, 10 rebounds, and his presence significantly aided the Thunder in sealing off the basket—yes, even from the drive-happy Westbrook. While the Thunder may have the most dominant player in this series, the argument that Harden enhances his teammates more is very palpable and real. For this reason, though the Thunder are at home and will have the force of a rabid crowd behind them, we expect another Rockets’ win in Game 3, to take a commanding and likely irreversible lead in this series. It will likely be a close game much like Game 2 was, but OKC seems to have some fatal flaws in Westbrook’s supporting cast, that, ironically, may be caused by Westbrook’s overactivity, to begin with.