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

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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.

Joel Embiid listed as doubtful for 76ers’ Game 4 vs Nets Saturday

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers are listing Joel Embiid as doubtful for Game 4 of their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets.

Embiid has been bothered by a sore left knee, but was able to play in the first two games of the series. He warmed up before Game 3 on Thursday night before it was decided that he couldn’t play.

Embiid worked out Friday at the 76ers’ practice in New York but coach Brett Brown said he didn’t know and didn’t have a gut feeling about whether his All-Star center would be able to go Saturday afternoon.

The 76ers rolled to a 131-115 victory without Embiid and lead the series 2-1. Greg Monroe started at center and had nine points and 13 rebounds, although is role was limited as the game wore on.

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka reportedly meets with Tyronn Lue as coaching search continues

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Rob Pelinka seems to have all the front office power in Los Angeles — whether that is wise is another conversation entirely — and he is continuing full speed ahead with the search for the next Lakers’ coach.

Pelinka reportedly has already been in Philadelphia and met with Sixers assistant Monty Williams, who is still busy coaching a playoff team. Miami assistant coach Juwan Howard also reportedly in the mix and is supposed to meet with Pelinka next week.

Friday came the report Pelinka was about to meet with former Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. This has been expected.

Lue and Williams are considered the frontrunners, and both have a relationship with LeBron James that would net a thumbs up from the Lakers’ star. Lue coached LeBron to a championship in Cleveland, and while a lot of casual fans like to rip his coaching by the end of his time with the Cavaliers he was running some pretty creative stuff and getting players into good matchups and positions.

Williams is a former Pelicans’ head coach who also has a strong relationship with Anthony Davis (not that the hiring of a coach would have any impact on where Davis is traded, however, if he leaves where he is traded as a free agent in 2020 the coach could be a factor). Williams has spent time in the Spurs front office and on the coaching bench for the Sixers and Thunder. Williams’ strength is the perception he is not LeBron’s guy, unlike Lue.

Wojnarowski also said that Lue is pushing back on the idea he is LeBron’s coach, saying he would be coaching the Lakers not just one player. In Cleveland, Lue had the trust of LeBron and that allowed the coach to challenge his star at points.

Minnesota to meet with Chauncey Billups, Trajan Langdon for lead front office job

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Minnesota may have settled on its coach for next season — Ryan Saunders seems to have a lock on the position — and are now working backward to hire his boss, the new president of basketball operations.

That could be former Pistons legend and current ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups, or Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon, both of whom have interviews coming up with Minnesota’s leadership, according to reports.

Billups has the most recognizable name of the group and a high basketball IQ, but he also has zero front office experience. While Billups has shown interest in other GM/basketball ops jobs before, there are some around the league questioning if Minnesota owner Glen Taylor is going to pay what it would take to get Billups out of ESPN. That said, there will at least be a conversation.

Minnesota also has met with Clippers GM Michael Winger, Rockets’ No. 2 Gersson Rosas, and Nuggets assistant GM Calvin Booth. This is a strong lineup of people from the “guys who have paid their dues and deserve a shot” file.”

Whoever takes over the job will fill the shoes of Tom Thibodeau, who was let go mid-season and who hamstrung the roster with his win-now decisions. In the positives column, Minnesota has All-NBA level player in Karl-Anthony Towns at the heart of the roster. After KAT there is work to do. Andrew Wiggins will make $27.5 million next season and has four more seasons after that at max money (right now that contract is as close to untradable as any in the NBA). Gorgui Dieng will make $16.2 million, and Jeff Teague opted into his $19 million. Lowering the cost of this roster while turning the Timberwolves back into a playoff team will require a lot of creativity.

Kevin Durant, JaMychal Green have technical fouls rescinded

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Kevin Durant and Patrick Beverley got two double technical fouls in the Warriors’ Game 1 win over the Clippers.

Though Golden State had the game in hand (really, unlike Game 2) by the time the players were ejected, the techs were a much bigger deal for the Warriors. Durant will stick around the playoffs long enough there’s a real risk of him getting seven technical fouls and automatic ejection.

That concern was heightened in the Warriors’ Game 3 win last night when Durant and JaMychal Green received double techs.

Durant, via Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“We were conversing about the play before, and then someone came out of nowhere and tech’d us both,” Durant explained to the media after the game. “Hopefully it gets rescinded.”

The NBA obliged:

Durant is back down to two technical fouls for the playoffs.