Houston Rockets: The little things that doom the Rockets

NBA Russell Westbrook (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
NBA Russell Westbrook (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

It’s the little things that doom the Houston Rockets

For the Houston Rockets, Game 6 was the same story, different(ish) cast of characters. The game got tight and they melted down.

Russell Westbrook torpedoed into the lane without a plan, chucked errant passes, and a fatigued/passive James Harden took a backseat like he tends to do in these moments. Chris Paul, crunch-time assassin, hunted down their weakest on-ball defender, Robert Covington, possession after possession in the closing minutes.

We all knew about the Rockets’ issues in these spots going in (particularly with the two stars), and it’s something that they’ll have to eventually overcome before the masses ever give them the benefit of the doubt. Houston has won their games by a combined 62 points. Oklahoma City? 19.

More from Sir Charles In Charge

The thing is, we should have never been here in the first place. These problems were supposed to be brought to the forefront later in the playoffs against a different opponent. Russ or no Russ, this Thunder team just doesn’t have the talent or continuity to hang with them. Houston has thoroughly out-played them for the majority of the action yet there’s a Game 7 on Wednesday for all the marbles.

So what has prevented the Rockets from already ending this series handily? To me, it’s the little things, and Game 6 was a clear example why.

6:25 remaining in the 1Q

Believe it or not, Danilo Gallinari was actually ice-cold to start this one, but things turned for him once he finally got an easy one to go down. Rather than attempt to stay with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander around a decoy screen, Ben McLemore does what Oklahoma City wants by conceding the mismatch.

This lets Gallinari get a deep seal in the paint for a chippy. Houston had been doing a good job throughout this series of selectively switching, but McLemore failed to execute that here. It was always going to be a concern how he would hold up defensively in the playoffs, and so far those doubts have been validated in this series.

6:05 remaining in the 2Q

James Harden blows by Dennis Schröder, who he has had no trouble scoring on the entire series, and Gilgeous-Alexander comes early with the help, while Darius Bazley zones up on the weak-side.

Bazley is far more attached to Danuel House in the corner, however, and Austin Rivers kills the possession by passing up the open triple. Oklahoma City has had its rotations well-tuned to match the Rockets’ offensive timing, but Houston has still been uncharacteristically gun-shy at times.

30.0 remaining in the 2Q

Russell Westbrook grabs a defensive rebound with about 27 seconds remaining in the half, and rather than holding for one last shot, pushes the ball up the floor and throws a pass to House out of bounds. This gives Oklahoma City an extra possession to close the quarter, and Schröder capitalizes with a tear-drop in the lane.

While Eric Gordon followed that with a crazy buzzer-beater in the corner (his one make from distance), the Rockets could have potentially been up by four or five (or two) at the half had Westbrook not made the mental mistake of granting the Thunder another chance with the ball.

8:00 remaining in the 3Q

Coming out of halftime, Houston began the third quarter by stretching the lead to nine, at 63-54, and was on the cusp of seizing firm control of the game. Then Westbrook falls asleep on a starting-to-get-red-hot Gallinari, who drains a much-needed three to right the ship for Oklahoma City.

2:40 remaining of in the 4Q

Harden drives to the basket and gets surrounded by three defenders. Rather than trying to hold the screen (which was the original plan it appears) for Gordon or space out, Covington makes an odd cut and Paul intercepts the kick-out pass. This was a notable play in that it may have sparked Harden to defer to Westbrook. Houston’s 22 turnovers in this one ultimately sabotaged them.

Related Story. What if the Houston Rockets lose Game 7?. light

Plays like these allowed the best clutch team in the league to hang around and keep their collective spirit alive. No matter how Game 7 turns out, these little things could end up dooming the Rockets’ title aspirations. I want to like their chances in the next-round should they advance, but they always seem to get in their own way at the worst possible times.