Thunder go home without Westbrook
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
The Oklahoma City Thunder return home for Wednesday’s Game 5 in their best-of-seven first-round NBA playoff series against the Houston Rockets with what is anything but a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Preparing for their first home game without injured point guard Russell Westbrook, the Thunder in this postseason are still adjusting to their new normal.
And they are fortunate to hold an advantage in the series against a young Rockets team that has challenged them in every game except the series opener. Without Westbrook, who has undergone surgery to repair a torn meniscus, nothing promises to be easy for the Thunder, the top seed in the Western Conference, even against the NBA’s youngest team.
“What’s the panic for?” Durant said after the 105-103 loss in Game 4. “No need to panic. That’s only going to put more pressure on us. That’s only going to make us feel even worse. Always stay positive, that is what I am about.”
But there are ominous signs. In Game 4, Kevin Durant – 38 points on 16 field goal attempts – was at his most efficient. Houston’s James Harden authored an uneven performance. The Rockets committed 22 turnovers and played without Jeremy Lin, who has been hampered by a chest contusion.
And the eighth-seeded Rockets still won.
In Game 3, the Thunder’s first game without Westbrook, the Thunder needed every bounce of Durant’s late-game three-pointer and perfect spin on an improbable Serge Ibaka reverse layup to beat the Rockets.
And now the Rockets are infused with confidence, believing their Game 4 victory was more than simply postponing the inevitable in a series that has been revived since the Thunder’s 29-point victory in Game 1. They feel it was a game-changer.
“We think so, for sure,” Rockets forward Chandler Parsons said. “We know we can play with these guys. We know we can beat these guys. We were in this situation the last two games … No one is giving us a chance. The pressure is on them.”
The Rockets also take confidence in the fact they nearly beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City with Westbrook in the lineup. They rallied from … [For more on Thunder going home without Russell Westbrook, click here.]