There comes a point in most seven-game series where the analysis lends itself to simplicity, a juncture where the most obvious theory provides the clearest point of view.
For the Houston Rockets, their success boils down to ball security. Six games into their Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Rockets know exactly where they stand and are acutely aware of how the Thunder have extended the series.
In Games 1, 2 and 5, the Rockets averaged a mere 8.3 turnovers and cruised to double-digit victories. In Games 3, 4 and 6, Houston averaged 17.3 turnovers in three close losses, including 22 giveaways in a 104-100 setback on Monday that set the table for a winner-take-all, Game 7 tilt in the AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando on Wednesday.
“Twenty-two (turnovers) just sealed our fate,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters after Game 6.
That the Thunder own series wins by three and four points plus an overtime victory reflects their DNA. They consistently outperformed foes in the clutch during the season, taking their cue from Chris Paul. In Game 6, the veteran guard scored 15 of his team-high 28 points in the fourth quarter while adding seven rebounds and three steals over 40 brilliant, turnover-free minutes.
The Thunder can puff out their collective chests for having a well-earned reputation for mental might under duress, but their ability to execute when the stakes are highest continues to bolster their confidence and will serve as the blueprint for how they will approach the series finale.
“I think the way you approach is just like another playoff game,” Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari said. “Of course it’s an (elimination) game, but I think that we need to take all the positive stuff that we did in the last game and especially the approach and the attention to details that we had for 48 minutes.”
Said Thunder coach Billy Donovan: “It was great to see the way our guys competed (in Game 6). You know we’re going to need to compete like that again. I think that there’s things that we can clean up, there’s things that we need to do better that we have control over.
“But we were in an elimination situation (Monday) night so we’ve got to come out there and we’ve got to do it together, and we’ve got to play for each other and we’ve got to help each other out there on both ends of the floor.”
What continues to gnaw at the Rockets is how their every mistake appears magnified and punitive. When Houston plays well, it has established a clear talent gap over the Thunder. Even when the Rockets have stumbled, they’ve found themselves in contention late with a turnover here or an errant shot there having cost them a shot to eliminate the Thunder and advance.
The Rockets accumulated enough miscues to find themselves on the brink of elimination, a position that seemed unlikely when Houston raced to a 2-0 series lead and after the Rockets reclaimed control with a 34-point dismantling of the Thunder in Game 5.
“There’s no excuse for some of the losses we have in this series,” Rockets forward P.J. Tucker said. “And there’s no excuse for us to still be sitting here talking about things that we should be doing anyways and that should be fixated in our minds completely. We shouldn’t have to meet, we shouldn’t have film sessions, we shouldn’t have any of that stuff. Let’s talk about the things that are costing us the game.
“I’m just ready to play. Period.”
–Field Level Media