Steven Adams

Thunder’s Andre Roberson entering free agency after impactful playoff series

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The Rockets were starting to pull away from the Thunder in Game 5 of their first-round series, and the Houston crowd was looking for a reason to erupt. The Rockets provided one by intentionally fouling Roberson despite holding Oklahoma City without a basket for the previous five minutes. The Thunder wing stepped to the line in the loudening arena and, of course, missed both free throws.

But Roberson didn’t go down quietly.

On the ensuing defensive possession, he picked up James Harden in the backcourt and hounded the Rockets star on the perimeter. Harden passed to Nene, and Roberson doubled the center in the post and stole the ball. Roberson passed to Russell Westbrook then laid out Patrick Beverley with an open-court screen, freeing Westbrook to score.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. Oklahoma City fell in five games, Westbrook’s supporting cast unable to keep up enough with its MVP candidate.

“That’ll definitely be one thing that haunt me, Roberson said of his free-throw shooting against Houston, “and something I’ll work on extremely hard this summer.”

Roberson’s postseason confirmed everything we thought we knew about him: He’s a defensive dynamo, and he can’t shoot.

But understanding Roberson’s skill set is only a small step in evaluating him. Teams are better than ever at exposing perimeter players who can’t shoot, and that makes Roberson’s price point difficult to read as he enters restricted free agency. The Thunder delayed the decision – extending Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo last year while allowing Roberson to complete his rookie-scale contract without an extension – but time is practically up.

For better or worse, it was all there in the playoffs.

Roberson made just 3-of-21 free throws (14%), the worst percentage by anyone with so many attempts in a postseason series (since 1964, as far as Basketball-Reference go back). Here are the worst free-throw percentages in a series since 1964 (minimum: 100 attempts):

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This was hardly out of the norm for Roberson, who made just 42% of his free throws during the regular season.

His postseason 3-point percentage (41%) was way better than his regular-season baseline (25%), but he attempted just 17 3-pointers in 185 playoff minutes. Not only is that a small sample, it speaks to another problem. The Rockets typically left him open, and he was reluctant to shoot. That allowed Houston to defend 5-on-4 elsewhere with only minimal repercussions. Despite playing more than 90% of his minutes with Westbrook, the Thunder still scored worse with Roberson on the court.

So why did Roberson receive such a prominent role in the series?

He’s a defensive stud. Roberson ranks fourth among players who regularly defend opposing guards in defensive real plus-minus:

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Roberson shadowed Harden for too much of the series to gauge on-off splits, but adding regular-season Thunder-Rockets games reveals a clearer (though still limited) picture:

James Harden Roberson on Roberson off
Minutes 320 16
Points per 36 minutes 25.3 51.8
Turnovers per 36 minutes 6.0 0.0
Free-throw attempts per 36 minutes 10.9 22.5
2-point percentage 50.5% 60.0%
3-point percentage 21.1% 60.0%
Effective field-goal percentage 41.9% 75.0%

Harden, arguably the NBA’s best offensive player, was held in relative check with Roberson on the floor. When Roberson sat, Harden went wild.

There has to be a place for a defender like Roberson in this league.

Is it in Oklahoma City?

Roberson was effective in last year’s playoffs as a small-ball big. He cut and crashed the offensive glass. That got harder with two of Adams, Taj Gibson and Enes Kanter occupying the paint. The Thunder maximizing Roberson’s production might mean losing a big man or two. Gibson will be a free agent and said he wants to return. Adams and Kanter are locked into lucrative long-term deals.

When it comes to Roberson, it’s always complicated.

Noticeably frustrated, Russell Westbrook gets prickly with reporter after loss to Rockets (VIDEO)

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The Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets played an ugly game down the stretch on Sunday. The Rockets employed a hack-a-Andre Roberson strategy, while the Thunder played sloppy and often poorly with Russell Westbrook out of the game.

The latter was the subject in question when Oklahoman reporter Berry Tramel spoke with Westbrook and Steven Adams at a postgame press conference following the Game 4 loss, 113-109.

Tramel’s question — whether the Rockets got a boost when Westbrook was off the floor — was directed at Adams, but the Thunder MVP candidate couldn’t let it go.

Snapping at Tramel, Westbrook told him not to split them up.

Via Twitter:

Tramel’s question is legitimate, and one of the overarching themes of this series thus far. Westbrook’s response is pretty far off the mark, but it did tell the story of how he’s feeling going away from Chesapeake Arena down 3-1.

Game 5 is on Tuesday in Houston.

Thunder convert missed FT to 3-pointer, refs miss James Harden push as Rockets win Game 4

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As if the end of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers Game 4 wasn’t wild enough, the finish to the matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder was just as odd.

The final quarter of Sunday’s game was laden with poor play and heavy fouling, including a ploy by Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni to put Thunder forward Andre Roberson at the line as part of a hacking strategy.

But the final minute was what really caught everyone’s eye, as the Thunder converted a purposely-missed free-throw attempt by Steven Adams into a Russell Westbrook 3-pointer with just 21 seconds left.

Via Twitter:

The Thunder then broke down on the inbounds play a few seconds later, allowing Nene — who had a great game, scoring 28 points off the bench on 12-of-12 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds — to score an and-1 at the other end of the floor.

Oklahoma City then scored again on a tip.

That’s when it got REAL weird.

Houston inbounded the ball to James Harden, who got away with a gigantic, and frankly hilarious push off on Alex Abrines. OKC nearly stole the ball, but instead were called for a foul.

Via Twitter:

This game was wild, weird, terrible, and both sides have something to gripe about when it came to fouls.

Houston beat OKC, 113-109, and take a 3-1 lead back to Texas.

Russell Westbrook changes conversation in win over Rockets

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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The Great Russell Westbrook Debate can shift topics. “Is he clutch enough” is the new “Is he too selfish?”

Westbrook went 3-of-6 on free throws down the stretch, and the Thunder blew a 10-point lead in the final minutes. But James Harden missed a 3-pointer just before the buzzer, allowing Oklahoma City to escape with a 115-113 Game 3 win over the Rockets on Friday.

“I’ve got to make a free throw,” Westbrook grumbled to begin his on-court interview before seemingly realizing stewing was a bad look and expressed pleasure his team trimmed the series deficit to 2-1.

And, yes, Westbrook clearly cares how he looks, no matter what pretenses he puts up.

His cartoonish fourth quarter of Game 2 – shooting 4-for-18 while his teammates shot 3-for-11 – invited deep criticism of his ball-hogging. Westbrook showed a different approach from the jump tonight, making a concerted effort to find his teammates. He had eight assists in the first half and 11 through three quarters.

Even though Westbrook added no assists in the fourth quarter, he kept looking for his teammates – sometimes to a fault. They just didn’t connect.

Houston cut the margin during an excruciating few minutes Westbrook began the final period during the bench. Even as the Rockets went on a late 15-5 to tie it, Westbrook sought floor balance.

His teammates reveled in his faith in them. They made 9-of-18 3-pointers, and Westbrook — who was 5-for-22 from beyond the arc in the first two games — attempted only one. Steven Adams tipped in a Westbrook miss with 35 seconds left to put Oklahoma City up good, though Westbrook’s dicey free-throw shooting kept it tense.

Like every game in this series, it will be seen as a referendum in the already-decided, not-yet-revealed MVP race. The final lines:

  • Westbrook: 32 points on 24 shots and 10-of-14 free throw shooting, 13 rebounds, 11 assists, three steals, five turnovers, W
  • Harden: 44 points 21 shots and 18-of-18 free throw shooting, six rebounds, six assists, seven turnovers, L

Both players will insist the final letter is most important, but Harden can bank on a couple of those Ws from Games 1 and 2. The Thunder still have their back against the wall.

This felt like a team energized by its first home playoff game of the year, though Billy Donovan made some smart adjustments – mainly tightening his rotation, including deactivating second-string point guard Semaj Christon.

The Thunder will go as far as Westbrook takes them, and tonight, that was to their first playoff win without Kevin Durant since moving to Oklahoma City.

Now, it’s Harden’s turn to answer.

J.J. Watt is a huge fan of Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley

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HOUSTON (AP) When J.J. Watt attended the Houston Rockets’ playoff game on Sunday night, he got a front-row view of Patrick Beverley‘s intensity.

The Houston Texans star defensive end was taken aback when Beverley walked over to his courtside seat during a timeout and simply stood in front of him and stared for several seconds.

“I was like: `Pat, I don’t know what you want me to do here, man. I can’t really do anything,”‘ Watt said. “He’s just staring me down. And my girlfriend looked at me and she was like: `That was kind of cool and kind of awkward at the same time.’ I was like: `Yeah it was.’ I didn’t know what to do.”

Watt finally broke the stalemate by high-fiving the guard, a well-deserved acknowledgement on a night when Beverley scored a playoff career-high 21 points with 10 rebounds and slowed Russell Westbrook with his defense to help Houston rout Oklahoma City 118-87 in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

“The guy was just absolutely killing it,” Watt said. “His intensity is the best. I was setting there on the sidelines getting fired up, wanting to get in the game.”

Watt actually thought about rushing on the court for a brief moment in the third quarter on Sunday night to stand up for Beverley. It came when 7-foot Thunder center Steven Adams knocked the 6-1 Beverley to the court on a hard screen just a few feet away from Watt’s seat.

“That dude knocks him out,” Watt said. “And I was like: `OK, we may have a problem you’re messing with my guy Pat.”‘

The Rockets were off on Monday and Beverley wasn’t available for comment, but he tweeted his thanks for Watt’s support by saying that he wants him back for Game 2 on Wednesday night in the same seat he had for the first game.

Watt is known for his fiery demeanor while chasing down quarterbacks on the football field. But even he was a little surprised by Beverley’s ferocity on Sunday night.

“He just has a way of getting you fired up,” Watt said. “He is like the Wolverine out there. He’s fearless. I love the way that guy plays and it was just fun to watch that guy put on a show.”

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