Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverly drives against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook in the second half of their Game 2 NBA Playoffs basketball game in Oklahoma City.

Rockets play much better, but Thunder escape with the win for a 2-0 series lead


After dropping Game 1 of their first round playoff series to the top seeded Thunder by 29 points, there weren’t many who believed the Rockets would be able to compete for more than short stretches the rest of the series.

But thanks to some key adjustments, Houston gave the Thunder all they could handle in Game 2, and erased all of a 15-point fourth quarter deficit before ultimately falling 105-102.

Rockets head coach Kevin McHale knew he had to match the Thunder’s speed after the way the first game unfolded, so he went small and inserted first year reserve point guard Patrick Beverley into the starting lineup in place of his usual starting big man, Greg Smith.

The move worked to perfection. Not only did Beverley produce by contributing 16 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists in 41 minutes, but he got under the skin of Russell Westbrook at times when battling him defensively. Two early fouls on Westbrook had him sitting on the bench after playing less than six first quarter minutes, but Kevin Durant took over without issue as he poured in 15 points in the game’s first 12 minutes.

Westbrook came back with a vengeance in the second, and put in one of those electric stretches he’s become known for. Westbrook had 11 in the period in under seven and a half minutes.

While Durant and Westbrook were doing their collective thing, Harden was doing his for the Rockets. He barreled into the paint on seemingly every possession, and got to the free throw line for 20 attempts. Harden finished with a game high 36 points (albeit on just 9-of-24 shooting), to go along with 11 rebounds and six assists.

This was an exciting game that stayed tight in the first half, and then gave way to wild swings by both teams in the second.

Oklahoma City ran its lead to 11 midway through the third period, once Beverley headed to the bench after picking up his fourth foul. Jeremy Lin was unavailable in the second half due to a shoulder contusion, so Aaron Brooks got the call in the third when Beverley was forced to sit out.

The Thunder briefly took control to start the fourth thanks to a couple of threes from Kevin Martin and one from Westbrook that saw the lead reach 15 points with under nine and a half minutes remaining. The Rockets then went to a zone defense, and everything changed.

Houston went on a monster of a run while the Thunder struggled to deal with the zone by taking too many long twos and threes, instead of moving the ball and trying to attack the center of it. The Rockets put together a 21-2 stretch, capped off by a three-pointer from Carlos Delfino that gave them a four-point lead with 3:37 remaining.

But Durant responded. He blocked Chandler Parsons inside, then drained a three a couple of possessions later that put the Thunder back ahead, before driving to draw the defense and making a great kick-out pass to Thabo Sefolosha, who drained the open three that sealed it for OKC.

The Rockets got just about everything they wanted in this one statistically, except for one glaring omission. Houston killed the Thunder on the glass, outrebounding them 57-40. Thy won the battle of points in the paint with a 50-30 advantage, and outscored them 27-15 in second chance points.

But the Rockets were a dreadful 10-35 from three-point distance, good for just 28.6 percent. They got plenty of open looks, but simply couldn’t knock them down, and it’s a shame considering that the team was second in the league behind only the Knicks in three-pointers made per game, and finished eighth in the league in three-point shooting percentage.

Houston may be able to carry some momentum with them from this one back home for Games 3 and 4, and now it will be Thunder head coach Scott Brooks’ turn to make the adjustments. The Thunder won’t likely struggle as much against the zone again (they were plenty successful against it at times during the regular season), and they’ll have to find a way to close better on the Rockets shooters, while not allowing Harden to get into the paint so easily where he draws the bulk of the fouls that give him those free throw opportunities.

The status of Jeremy Lin moving forward will obviously be a concern for the Rockets, and will have a big impact on whether or not they can put up a fight similar to the one we saw in Game 2 once the series shifts to Houston.

Kings pick up option on G Ben McLemore

Ben McLemore, Rodney Hood
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento have picked up the 2016-17 option on guard Ben McLemore‘s contract.

General manager Vlade Divac announced the move Saturday.

McLemore was Sacramento’s first-round pick in 2013. He averaged 12.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season.

Paul George reiterates “I don’t know if I’m cut out for a four spot”

Paul George

In the Pacers first exhibition game of the season Saturday against the Pelicans, Paul George started at the power forward spot and looked healthy — that should be the big takeaway. He also showed off his offensive game in the first quarter, eventually finishing the night with 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He forced some shots in the second half and had some defensive challenges, but it was a solid outing for a first preseason game.

George did not see it that way, and that will end up being the big takeaway.

He complained about playing power forward during training camp and given the chance after this one game he did it again, as reported by Candace Buckner of the Indy Star.

“I don’t know if I’m cut out for a four spot,” George said after the Pacers’ 110-105 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, a game in which he started matched up against 6-foot-11 All-Star Anthony Davis.

“I don’t know if this is my position. We’ll sit and watch tape and I’m sure I’ll talk with coach (Frank Vogel). I’ll talk with Larry (Bird) as well to get both their inputs on how the first game went but…I’m still not comfortable with it regardless of the situation. It’s still something I have to adjust to or maybe not. Or maybe it’s something we can go away from.”

George sees himself as a wing, where he has played his entire career. He doesn’t like defending traditional fours, as a scorer he doesn’t like expending all that energy defending pick-and-rolls and banging with bigger bodies. He’s been clear about that.

He still needs to be open to the idea. How much time George gets at the four on any given night should depend on the matchup — and Anthony Davis is about as rough a matchup as he is going to see. Davis scored 18 points in 15 minutes, and the Pelicans controlled the paint against the small-ball Pacers. George had a hard time defending Davis — welcome to a rather large club, PG. That said, George scored 12 points in the first quarter mostly with Davis on him, he pulled the big out in space and got what he wanted.

Back to the matchups point, George will struggle defensively against the best fours in the game (most of whom are in the West). But what about the nights in the East when George would be matched up on Thaddeus Young from Brooklyn, Jared Sullinger (or David Lee, or whoever) from Boston, or Aaron Gordon with the Magic, or Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks when they play small? There are a lot of lineups the Pacers will see where George at the four makes sense.

The Pacers are transitioning from a plodding and defensive-minded squad to a more up-tempo style, and that’s going to take time— a lot more than one preseason game. However, if George is throwing cold water on the plan after this one effort, it might take a lot longer and be a lot bumpier to make that transition than we pictured.