The Houston Rockets just barely survived the Oklahoma City Thunder. Their 3-3 tied series came to a wild finish, as James Harden blocked (!!) Lu Dort (!) to seal a 104-102 win. Two points separated Chris Paul from the second round. And two points separated Harden and Russell Westbrook from an early offseason.
You might think the series was way too close. You’re right. The entire series was too close. Harden and company didn’t absolutely dominate with their superior offensive firepower.
Part of that is thanks to the emergence of Dennis Schröder. The former Atlanta Hawk stepped up big time on the offensive end, especially in Games 3 and 4. He dropped a combined 59 points off the bench, even nailing two free throws to ice Game 4.
Role players stepped in a big way in general. Danilo Gallinari had a fantastic Game 1 and solid Game 2. He also had a fantastic showing in Game 6, dropping 25 points. Dort proved that he had long-range game in Game 7. Oklahoma City proved it could hang with the big boys.
They caused problems defensively for the Rockets. Eric Gordon, Westbrook and Harden all had a combined 9 turnovers for Games 6 and 7. That’s 27 turnovers spread among the Rockets’ backcourt.
Game 7 was particularly problematic for Houston. The Rockets let Dort, who shot 18 percent from 3 in the first 6 games, score 18 from deep. They managed to contain Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to 19 apiece. But jeez, this was Lu Dort’s game.
Harden was also surprisingly nonexistent from a scoring perspective. He shot an abysmal 4-for-15 and scored 17 points. His 9:4 assist-turnover ratio isn’t great either.
Credit to the Thunder because Harden got held. That’s a scary prospect for the Rockets, especially with the Lakers looming so close.
They got lucky against the Thunder. If another role player stepped up, it’s more than plausible that the Rockets would be the ones leaving the bubble. Houston managed to grind down Oklahoma City’s offense but with Los Angeles, that strategy becomes 10 times more difficult. You can thank LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Lakers don’t necessarily need role players to go off for 30 off of the bench because James and Davis are one of the most potent offensive duos in the league. James alone is scary. The man is an absolute beast in the playoffs, year after year. Davis, however, could be even better than he is now.
If the Rockets want to survive the Lakers, they need to figure out how to contain one of the two. Even more importantly, they need to make sure Harden can’t get contained. Harden might be having an MVP-caliber year, but if he has another stinker like Game 7, Houston might have a problem.