Welcome to a playoff series between former feuding teammates Chris Paul and James Harden. Needless to say, NBA fans far and wide had high expectations when the Thunder and the Rockets stepped onto the floor on Tuesday night.
Take it away, Vanna and Pat.
What followed the pregame intrigue was a strange 48 minutes of basketball that resulted in a 123-108 Game 1 win for the Rockets.
First Takeaway: James Harden Did His Thing
Oklahoma City and Houston were without the services of two important guards in Game 1. The Thunder are taking it easy with defensive stopper Lu Dort (right knee strain) while the Rockets held Russell Westbrook out with a quad injury. It would have been fair to assume that Houston would be severely hampered without one of their two MVPs, but it was Oklahoma City who missed their missing guard a whole lot more.
Dort would have likely been assigned to defend James Harden. After all, that was his assignment when the rookie made his first start of his career against the Rockets on Jan. 20. Dort stifled Harden who scored 29 points on 9-for-29 shot attempts (including 16 missed 3-pointers).
Without Dort on the floor, Harden went wild (37 points on 12-for-22 shots) in Game 1.
Second Takeaway: Houston’s, Not OKC’s, Bench Made All The Noise
OKC prides itself on owning one of the most productive benches in the NBA. According to hoopsstats.com, the Thunder are tenth in the league with an average of 39.5 bench points per game during the regular season. Houston’s average of 28.7 bench points per game is one of the NBA’s lowest figures (28th out of 30).
All the Rockets did was pour in 42 bench points against the Thunder’s 27. Jeff Green, another thriving ex-Thunder player, scored 22 points and made three 3-pointers in 32 minutes.
The Thunder’s top scoring reserve, guard Dennis Schroeder, missed nine of his 12 shot attempts off the bench on Tuesday.
It was one of those kinds of nights.
Third Takeaway: Start Darius Bazley
Thunder coach Billy Donovan kept his full starting lineup close to the chest before revealing Terrance Ferguson would get the nod against James Harden.
Ferguson, like tons of NBA players before him, had no chance keeping up with the man who has now won three consecutive NBA scoring titles.
If you are familiar with reading this space, you know that I have no reservations about Darius Bazley’s game. He’s long, rebounds well, can defend any position from guard to center and is an ever-improving 3-point shooter. This is why, as long as Dort is sidelined, Bazley should be in the starting lineup for Game 2 on Thursday.
It is nearly impossible to keep a man of Harden’s talent down all game long, but someone of Bazley’s talent gives the Thunder a better chance to throw the NBA MVP finalist off his game. Even if he slightly threw him off his game, that’s pretty much a win for OKC.
While we noted the bench discrepancy between the two teams, Oklahoma City won’t win a game – much less this series – if Paul makes his first basket in the second quarter and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander makes his first basket early in the third quarter. Both of these things happened on Tuesday night.
Game 2 of Thunder-Rockets is set for 2:30 p.m. Thursday.