The Houston Rockets return home leading the Oklahoma City Thunder 3-1 in their Western Conference first-round playoff series and opened as 8-point favorites for Tuesday’s Game 5 (8 p.m. ET) as they look to end OKC’s season. I expect that to be the case.
NBA Playoff Record: 2-1Oklahoma City Thunder At Houston Rockets (-8, 223)
With Oklahoma City down 3-1 in the series to Houston, Tuesday is likely the end of the season for Russell Westbrook. I believe the one thing people will remember the 2016-17 campaign for most is Westbrook and his triple-doubles. Of course he set the NBA single-season record with 42 of them and joined Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only players ever to average a triple-double. Westbrook put up an astounding 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game.
In this series, Westbrook is also averaging a triple-double: 35.0 points, 11.8 rebounds and 11.3 assists. He’s just not getting much help. In Sunday’s home 113-109 loss, Westbrook had 35 points, 14 assists and 14 rebounds to become the first player in league history to record three straight 30-point triple-doubles in the postseason. No one else on the Thunder had more than 18 points, though. It was the first game in these playoffs to close at a consensus pick'em on NBA odds.
Westbrook’s 14 rebounds were seven more than any other OKC guy, and this team led the NBA in rebounding during the regular season. Houston won the battle of the boards on Sunday, 45-40. Oklahoma City was outscored by a total of 17 points in two four-minute stretches Westbrook sat in the first and second halves. Billy Donovan can’t play the guy all 48 minutes.
Also, what are the Thunder to do with Andre Roberson? He’s a fabulous defender, but the Rockets kept purposefully fouling him as Roberson was just 2-for-12 from the free-throw line and is 2-for-17 in the series. That’s ridiculous. Hack-A-Andre probably continues. Houston coach Mike D'Antoni had this to say after on intentional fouling: "I'd probably vote against it if they asked the coaches … but it's a rule and we'll take advantage of it."
James Harden, expected to finish second to Westbrook in the NBA MVP voting, had a quiet Game 4 in shooting 5-for-16 from the field for 16 points to go with seven turnovers. He also got a ton of help. Brazilian big man Nene had the game of his life, going 12-for-12 from the field for 28 points along with with 10 rebounds. He tied the NBA playoff record for made field goals without a miss. The only other player to go 12-for-12 was Larry McNeill for the 1975 Kings against the Bulls. There is a link between McNeill and Nene: D'Antoni was McNeill's teammate.
Nene’s fellow reserves, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams, each added 18 points. Gordon's two free throws with 6.2 seconds left sealed the win. Oklahoma City’s bench players, meanwhile, totaled 22 points. Enes Kanter has become a complete afterthought and couldn’t guard a telephone pole when he’s on the court.
The Pick Is ...
Clearly Houston would like to finish things off Tuesday and get some rest ahead of a conference semifinals matchup against either San Antonio and Memphis. That series is guaranteed to go at least six games and thus not end before Thursday. The longer the better for the Rockets.
On the flip side, OKC will obviously play desperate. I’m a bit concerned about Harden’s ankle. He turned it in Game 3 on Friday and it cost him some of his quickness and athleticism Sunday. Oklahoma City probably should have won Sunday at is was up 14 in the third quarter.
So while I do think Houston wins this game, I’m taking the points. The Rockets are just 19-24 ATS at home this season.