No Russell Westbrook, no problem!
The short-handed Houston Rockets powered their way to a comfortable 123-108 Game 1 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, behind a big night from James Harden.
Harden poured in 37 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Rockets to a 1-0 series lead. Danilo Gallinari led the Thunder with 29 points, while Chris Paul fell just shy of a triple-double, recording 20 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists.
Here are some key takeaways from this game
Harden doing Harden things
Without his running mate Westbrook, Harden took the reigns of the Rockets' offence and did what he does best, consistently breaking down the defence by driving to the hoop, stepping back for three-pointers and finding open teammates.
OKC were without key defender Luguentz Dort (right knee sprain) and threw a combination of Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo, Andre Roberson, and Dennis Schroder at Harden, but found little success slowing him down, outside of Schroder.
Schroder put his speed to good use, staying in front of Harden and guarding him without fouling, but the league's leading scorer continued to find ways to rack up the points.
The Beard stepback!@okcthunder x @HoustonRockets #NBAPlayoffs on TNT pic.twitter.com/z18q2S3pSy- NBA (@NBA) August 18, 2020
He finished with 37 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists on 12-of-22 shooting from the field and 6-of-13 from deep. Harden became the first Rockets player with a 30-10 playoff game in fewer than 35 minutes or fewer since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1995.
Rockets role players step up
In the absence of Russell Westbrook, who missed Game 1 with a quad injury, James Harden had plenty of help on the offensive end from the supporting cast.
The trio of Eric Gordon, Jeff Green, and Ben McLemore combined for 57 points on a scorching 20-of-37 shooting from the field and 9-of-20 from beyond the arc.
Starting in place of Westbrook in the backcourt, Gordon recorded 21 points, while McLemore 14 in his first playoff game. Green added 22 points in the win, making it his first 20+ point scoring game in the postseason since 2013.
The Rockets weren't shy letting it fly from deep, connecting on 20-of-52 shots from beyond the arc, matching their own record for most threes attempted in a playoff game.
The Thunder are one of the best teams defending the three-point line, but the Rockets' superb ball movement opened things up as they assisted on 25 of their 43 made field goals, with six different players dishing out at least three assists.
Most three-point attempts in a playoff game:- StatMuse (@statmuse) August 19, 2020
52 - Rockets (tonight)
52 - Rockets
50 - Rockets
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48 - Rockets pic.twitter.com/eHpuZ5A9cO
The Rockets bench outscored the Thunder reserves 42-27 on the night.
Thunder fail to capitalise on size advantage
The Rockets' offence was firing on all cylinders, but. it was their work on the defensive end that made the difference in Game 1.
Starting P.J. Tucker and Robert Convington in the frontcourt against 7-foot big man Steven Adams, the Rockets implemented their zone to perfection, frustrating the Thunder into some hasty shots from deep, while limiting Adams' impact in the paint.
The Rockets outscored the Thunder in the paint 44-38.
Encouragingly for the Rockets, they were only out-rebounded by 46-36, a huge effort across the board considering the size advantage they were giving up inside.
Adams finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds on the night, but the Rockets did a great job pulling him away from the rim on defence with the threat of Tucker in the corner, opening up the lane for Harden, Gordon and co.
Three-guard lineup struggles
The Thunder's three-headed monster of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have been the cornerstone of their offence this season, especially late in games, however, against the Rockets they never really got going.
After a quiet first half, Paul came to life in the second to finish with 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, while Schroder, playing just his second game in the bubble, managed just six points and four assists on 3-of-12 shooting from the field.
In his playoff debut for the Thunder, Gilgeous-Alexander shot 2-of-8 from the field for his nine points.
The two teams will face off again on Thursday, August 20 for Game 2, which tips off at 3:30 p.m. E.T. on TSN 1/4/5.
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