3 things to watch for in Thunder vs. Rockets Game 2

Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) controls the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP) (Kim Klement)

HOUSTON – After a commanding 123-108 win over the Thunder in Game 1, the Rockets look to continue that momentum Thursday afternoon for Game 2. Again, the team will be without one of the stars, Russell Westbrook, who is still out with a quad injury, but head coach Mike D’Antoni knows they have more than enough to win.

1. Filling the scoring void while Russell Westbrook is out 

Despite not having Westbrook in Game 1, Eric Gordon, who started in place of him, came out strong, scoring 21 points in 30 minutes. Midseason acquisition Jeff Green added 22 points, and with him on the floor, the Rockets outscored the Thunder by 28 points. Rockets small forward Ben McLemore poured in 14 points as well. The Rockets outscored the Thunder’s bench 42-27. With Russell Westbrook’s return being uncertain, it’s crucial that Gordon, Green, McLemore, and even Danuel House Jr. fill the scoring void. If the Rockets can continue to score by committee, they should easily cruise through Game 2 and take a 2-0 lead in the series.

2. Dominant defense 

A Mike D’Antoni-led team isn’t known for defense, but the Rockets’ defensive strategy held OKC to only 40% shooting in the first half. The Rockets forced Oklahoma City to 13 turnovers, which led to 19 points for Houston. Former Rockets guard Chris Paul said it was tough to find a rhythm because the Rockets switched on everything and even played a little zone defense. Mike D’Antoni said: “Since we’re undersized, we have to be flying around. Once we play with that intensity, the speed that we were playing with makes it tough on teams.” The Rockets need to continue to make it tough to score for OKC stars Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dennis Schroder. 

3. The Beard 

James Harden had a game-high of 37 points and he posted his 20th career playoff game with 35 points or more. He set the tone early with 15 of those points in the first half. Even with the Rockets’ bench being confident, Houston will go as far as Harden takes them. The Thunder will look to double team or keep fresh defenders to slow down Harden so he needs to not only score but also look to get others involved by facilitating the ball. Harden also grabbed 11 rebounds in Game 1, which is huge because the Rockets are all-in on playing small. They will need everyone to box out and keep the Thunder out of the paint. 

Game 2 tips off at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.