Scott Brooks lets Omer Asik steal the show from Kevin Durant and James Harden in Thunder’s Game 5 loss to Rockets

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Kevin Durant has an attitude. Kevin McHale has a sense of humor. Scott Brooks has a job (for now). James Harden has an illness.

And we have a Game 6.

The Rockets beat the increasingly vulnerable-looking Thunder, 107-100, tonight. After taking a 3-0 series lead, Oklahoma City has lost two straight, but none more embarrassingly than tonight.

During the fourth quarter, Brooks – who coaches the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference – decided his team should intentionally foul Omer Asik of the eighth-seeded Rockets. The strategy was terrible in theory, and it went terribly.

Required to rhyme whenever a team intentionally fouls a specific player off the ball, I present my Asik Critique:

Asik Critique

In theory, using Asik’s regular-season free-throw percentage as a baseline, the Rockets’ offensive rating would be 112.4 on possessions ending in a pair of Asik free throws.

For reference, the Heat led the NBA this regulars season with an offensive rating of 110.3 and the Spurs are leading the league this postseason with an offensive rating of 111.0.

It’s also reasonable to expect the Thunder’s offense to suffer, considering free throws allow Houston’s defense to set and nearly negate any chance of an Oklahoma City fastbreak

In reality, the Thunder caught a break because Harden comically launched a half-court shot mistakenly before the Thunder fouled Asik. So, that gave Oklahoma City a big lift with a zero-point Houston possession.  But Asik shot better than expected, going 8-of-12 from the line when intentionally fouled.

So, that’s eight points in seven possessions – an offensive rating of 114.3.

Reminder: The Heat led the NBA this regulars season with an offensive rating of 110.3 and the Spurs are leading the league this postseason with an offensive rating of 111.0.

With Russell Westbrook out, the Thunder are psyched out, and nothing showed it more than this feeble strategy. At the same time, the Rockets are gaining confidence.

Late in the game, a frustrated Kevin Durant picked up a technical foul, and James Harden took the free throw. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

McHale told Asik to take it, but it was too late.

Oklahoma City’s bigger problems

Assuming Brooks learns from the Asik Critique (and assuming Brooks still has a job Friday), the Thunder can’t simply stop fouling Asik and win Game 6.

Kevin Martin, who shot 1-for-10, will take a lot of blame, and he deserves it.

But, when his team needed their best defensively, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins struggled.

Westbrook is a quality defender, and he’s missed. Durant has reserved his energy for running Oklahoma City’s offense, causing his defense to suffer.

As a result, the Rockets got to the rim with ease. But Ibaka and Perkins allowed them to finish once they got there.

On the other end, Durant took on point guard duties, but his teammates didn’t convert the open looks he created. Reggie Jackson didn’t really get going until the fourth quarter, when he scored 11 of his 20 points.

Harden had help defending the rim and scoring, mostly from Asik (21 points and 11 rebounds), but Francisco Garcia (5-for-12) and Patrick Beverly (2-for-5) shot well from beyond the arc for a team that bombed 35 3-pointers.

Harden vs. Durant

Harden, despite leaving the Rockets’ shootaround earlier in the day, made his first seven 3-pointers and finished with 31 points on 16 shots and eight rebounds.

Durant was even better. He had 36 points, seven rebounds and seven assists – but judging Durant by his total game misses a key element. Durant quit/wore down/tired of Brooks’ foolishness/insert your own narrative and went 0-for-5 and didn’t score in the fourth quarter. (Harden shot 1-for-5 in the period, but that will be ignored thanks to Brooks’ decision to foul Asik repeatedly.)

Foreshadowing occurred just before.

Harden, on a Rockets inbound from their own baseline with 35.9 seconds left in third quarter, walked the dog nearly to the Thunder 3-point line as Oklahoma City sagged back. Harden picked up the ball, took one dribble and nailed a 3-pointer (making him 6-for-6 on 3s in the game).

Durant answered with an isolation drive and floater for two points.

To complete the 2-for-1 Harden created, Aaron Brooks made a runner with a fraction of a second left.

Durant heaved an 81-footer that had obviously missed as the quarter ended.

Durant had to do it all for the Thunder tonight, and he couldn’t. Harden had a little help – some of it from Brooks – and that was just enough.

Chris Paul injures right hamstring, status unclear for Game 6 vs. Warriors

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul played the part of the hero for the home team on Thursday night as Houston beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals to take a 3-2 series lead.

Now, the question is whether Paul will be able to play in Game 6 on Saturday night.

After a game in which the Rockets were not particularly offensively impressive, Paul came up with some clutch baskets despite struggling overall. Paul got the better of the Golden State defense several times from beyond the arc, including one instance in which he gave a shoulder shimmy to Stephen Curry, allowing the Warriors guard a dose of his own medicine.

But Paul appeared to injure his right hamstring on a play with 51 seconds to go in fourth quarter as he was shooting a floater in the lane. After his shot, Paul remained on the ground and down at the Houston end of the floor as possession changed sides. Paul left the game some 30 seconds later, and was unable to finish the game.

The Rockets point guard had already been battling a right foot injury and had to get lots of treatment just to be able to play in Game 5. It’s not entirely surprising that Paul injured himself on his right side. A weakened link in the kinetic chain tends to force other muscles and joints to compensate for injured areas. When overused or improperly used, the chance for a new injury in another part of the kinetic chain — say, up the leg and into the hamstring — is entirely possible.

That seems like what happened to Paul on Thursday night, but we will have to wait for official word from the team before we know whether he will be playing on Saturday. Hamstring issues can the nagging and despite lots of treatment there is also the swelling that will occur when Paul has to fly to Oakland.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni says that Paul will be evaluated tomorrow and will be continuing to get treatment but he is not worried about someone being able to fill Paul’s shoes. That’s certainly the right thing to say for D’Antoni but we know how Game 6 might go if CP3 is unable to play.

Chris Paul plays the hero as Warriors devolve to iso ball in Game 5 loss

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I personally thought a Western Conference Finals game couldn’t get any uglier after I watched Game 4 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

Boy, was I wrong.

Thursday night’s Game 5 matchup between the Rockets and the Warriors two teams produced three heinous quarters of NBA playoff basketball, made even more unbearable by the fact that we know how good these two teams can be when they’re really humming.

Much as it was in Game 4 it was Houston’s defense that was on display, ironically forcing the Warriors to play much in the way the Rockets do when they lose. Golden State battled the shot clock with isolation ball much of the game, with Kevin Durant getting the ball at the top of the arc as some of the league’s top players — including a two-time MVP in Stephen Curry — widened the floor in a 1-4 flat set for the 7-foot wing.

To their credit, both Curry and Durant were in good shooting form through the first half but as the periods ground on they started to slow. Draymond Green was Draymond-y, scoring 12 points while grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds with four assists. Statistically, it’s hard to understand how the Warriors lost. Golden State shot better from the field, from the arc, and from the charity stripe. But their scoring was concentrated and their offense predictable at just the wrong moments.

Houston’s attack was nothing to shake a stick at, either. James Harden‘s scored just 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting, and as a unit the Rockets doled out 12 assists. Incessant switching and a tendency to hound the ball on defense allowed Houston to force a whopping 18 turnovers from Golden State. It was the most important statistic of the game for the Rockets, who scored 18 points on those turnovers despite being outpaced in 3-point shooting, points in the paint, and in fastbreak buckets.

Then, the fourth quarter happened. Everything changed, and as we are wont to do, the game felt much cleaner. Both teams had their energy up, they traded baskets, and the lead went back-and-forth.

Enter Chris Paul.

Houston’s point guard was the savior, scoring 20 points on a piddly 6-of-19 shooting performance. But Paul’s box score did not tell the tale of his impact on the game. Several times with the shot clock winding down, Paul came up with big beyond-the-arc buckets, at one point hitting one over Curry, giving him back a shoulder shimmy much the way the Warriors point guard did in Game 4.

Paul’s leadership pushed Houston forward, but his commitment during Game 5 might get overlooked after the Rockets point guard was forced to check out of the game after a play with 51 seconds remaining. On a floater in the lane, Paul appeared to hurt his right hamstring. Unable to play, Paul had to watch the final minute from the Houston bench, and his availability for Game 6 is currently up in the air.

It was ugly and it was gritty, but the Rockets beat Golden State on Thursday night, 98-94, to take Game 5 and a 3-2 series win as the Western Conference Finals heads back to Oakland.

Now, we look toward Game 6 in California on Saturday, May 26 at 6:00 PM PST.

Eric Gordon buckets, Draymond Green turnover seals game for Rockets

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For the second game in a row, the Houston Rockets were clutch in the fourth quarter and the defending champion Warriors clanked and fumbled their way to a loss.

Houston won Game 3 98-94 because down the stretch Eric Gordon made plays (and free throws) and Draymond Green fumbled away the Warriors chance.

It started with the Rockets up one with less than two minutes to go, when Eric Gordon — who led the Rockets with 24 points — drained a three that gave Houston some breathing room.

Six seconds later, Draymond Green answered with a three to keep it a one-point game.

With 10 seconds left in the game, a Trevor Ariza free throw made it a two-point game, giving the Warriors a chance to come down and tie or win. Then Green did this.

Gordon was fouled, hit two free throws, and it was ballgame.

The Rockets are now up 3-2 in the series and are one win away from the Finals.

Draymond Green thought Warriors might trade him after fight with Steve Kerr

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Draymond Green is the backbone of the Golden State Warriors, not just because he was the 2016-17 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Green sort of does it all, including passing, scoring, rebounding, and myriad other scrap work that doesn’t show up on regular box scores.

But there was some doubt in Green’s mind in 2016 that he would stay with the team. Green was involved in an argument during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and after things settled down the Warriors big man was concerned the team might trade him.

The thought of doing so is sort of ridiculous, but apparently that was something that flashed into Green’s mind given the tenseness of the situation between he and Kerr.

Via Bleacher Report:

But Green’s mood was still foul, and he left the arena that day believing his days as a Warrior were numbered. He feared the relationship had been fractured, that the Warriors would choose Kerr over him. That he’d be traded.

“One hundred percent,” Green tells B/R. “Especially with the success that he was having as a coach. Like, you just don’t get rid of that.”

The thing that makes Golden State great isn’t just the players, or the system, or Kerr. It’s the human resources management aspect of their organization that allows them to compete on the court in the way they do.

It’s not crazy to think that a player could be shipped out of town thanks to a disagreement with a coach, although the leverage players have these days likely has put a stop to that realistically happening. But that Kerr, Green, and management were able to get things back under control that season was to the benefit of everyone involved.