James Harden and the Houston Rockets steamrolled the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1.
The 4-5 matchup is typically expected to be the most competitive, unpredictable series in any postseason, but if Game 1 between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder was any indication, this first-round matchup in the 2020 NBA Playoffs might not fit the bill.
In a 15-point trouncing that was nowhere near as close as the final score indicated, Houston handily beat OKC to take a 1-0 lead in the series despite missing Russell Westbrook on Tuesday.
James Harden was magnificent, finishing with 37 points and 11 rebounds on 12-of-22 shooting, including 6-of-13 from 3-point range and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. Eric Gordon came up big for Houston with 21 points and relentless drives to the basket, while Danilo Gallinari led the charge for the Thunder with 29 points. Chris Paul largely struggled, though he ultimately finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Oklahoma City Thunder
What else did you miss in Game 1 between the Rockets and Thunder?
MVP: James Harden
It’s crazy some of y’all still don’t enjoy watching James Harden play basketball.
With the game all but out of hand by the time the fourth quarter began, the Rockets didn’t need much from their superstar in the final frame. But even if this isn’t the peak of his powers, don’t overlook his final stat line either. Harden was absolutely dominant in Game 1, and he remains perhaps the most dangerous scorer in these playoffs given this unique bubble environment.
It wasn’t just that he dropped a 37-point, 11-rebound double-double and made it look easy in his 34 minutes of action; it was the fact that the Harden haters, who bemoan his penchant for drawing fouls by exaggerating contact, didn’t have much ammo on Tuesday as he only went to the foul line eight times.
OKC absolutely needs their best hope of a “Harden stopper” in Luguentz Dort to be out there, but if the Beard keeps playing like this, it may not even matter.
Turning point: 2nd quarter runs
With a 12-0 run bridging the end of the first quarter and the start of the second quarter, the Rockets turned a five-point game into a 37-20 advantage that OKC never recovered from. Just minutes later, Houston had extended it to a 20-point lead. Though the Thunder trimmed the deficit down to 16 by halftime, the Rockets flew at cruising altitude the rest of the way.
The final box score — which shows Houston only outscored Oklahoma City 40-32 in the second quarter — may not indicate how this period was the turning point of the game, but when the lead climbed as high as 21 points, the Thunder looked dispirited at the uphill climb they faced the rest of the way.
Harden, Gordon and the rest of the Rockets’ short rotation never looked back or gave the Thunder enough daylight to turn it into a real game, starting the game 10-for-22 from deep while OKC struggled to the tune of 4-for-14.
Unsung hero: Jeff Green
The Rockets’ second-leading scorer, contrary to what the lead paragraphs of this article may have led you to believe, was not Eric Gordon. It was, in fact, Jeff Green, who dropped 22 thoroughly unexpected points in 32 minutes off the bench.
The 33-year-old journeyman was terrific, shooting 8-for-12 from the floor, making three of his seven 3-pointers and chipping in six rebounds and four assists for good measure. Not bad for a guy the Rockets originally signed to a 10-day contract back in February!
NBA fans have made the classic mistake of buying into Jeff Green as an essential piece to their team’s playoff run, and he has almost always disappointed. But this was a welcome sight for a Rockets rotation that only gives meaningful minutes to 8-9 guys, and if Houston’s bench continues to outscores OKC’s by a 42-27 margin, this is going to be a very short series.