The Houston Rockets clamped down on the Thunder offense and used a 34-point win to take control of their first-round series.
The Houston Rockets were certainly hoping for more than a split out of the first four games of their first-round series with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But the return of Russell Westbrook for Game 5 gave them a chance to firmly take momentum and shift the narrative of the series. Westbrook had a relatively quiet night — 7 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds on 3-of-13 from the field — but the defense was swarming and James Harden gave them more than enough offense to run away with this one.
The first half was relatively tight, with 20 points from Harden helping the Rockets hold a three-point lead. The second half was all Houston, with the Thunder managing just 35 points total, shooting 2-of-21 on 3-pointers and turning the ball over 11 times. All in all, it was a nightmare for Oklahoma City which now finds its back to the wall heading into Monday night’s Game 6.
Oklahoma City Thunder
What else did you miss in Game 5 between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder?
Turning point: Double ejections for P.J. Tucker and Dennis Schroder
To be fair, this may have been more of an epilogue than a turning point — the Rockets already had a 17-point lead in the middle of the third quarter when Schroder hit Tucker in the groin trying to run through a screen. Schroder didn’t seem to even realize what had happened and he was arguing with the officials as Tucker came up and head-butted him behind in retaliation.
Even though the Rockets were firmly in control, this pretty much closed the door for the Thunder. Schroder’s offense had been one of the few things keeping the score even reasonably close and the Thunder were outscored by 17 points over the final 18 minutes or so. It was an ugly blip in an otherwise ugly game, but it did give us this jewel.
Strategic advantage: Making Luguentz Dort a shooter
Dort has played legitimately terrific defense on Harden in the series but the Rockets went out of their way to make him a shooter in Game 5 and it paid off. For much of those game, Harden parked himself right outside the lane on defense, doubling ball-handlers and cutting off penetration, extremely comfortable giving Dort enough space to fire up 3-pointers on kickouts.
As the clip there implies, it was a rough night for Dort. He took 16 shots, more than anyone else on the Thunder, and made just three. He also finished 0-of-9 from beyond the arc which was a record for most playoff attempts by a rookie without a make. The problem for the Thunder was, they didn’t have a great option besides leaving him out there (see below).
Key Lineup: The Thunder’s best lineup was a disaster
The lineup that drove the Thunder this season was the three-guard lineup that put their five best players on the floor at once. Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams played 177 minutes together during the regular season, outscoring opponents by an average of 29.9 points per 100 possessions.
That group was the ace up the Thunder’s sleeve, the lineup they would often turn to in an attempt to try and dictate matchups, spreading the floor and going small. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really create an advantage against the smallest and spreadiest team in the league. That group has been outscored when they’re on the floor together against the Rockets in this series and they were minus-6 in the five minutes they played together in Game 5.