The Oklahoma City Thunder escaped Game 2 with a 105-102 victory over the Houston Rockets Wednesday night.
Kevin Durant came through with two huge assists in the final minutes to help the Thunder clinch the win.
But it was Houston’s change to their starting lineup that made this game so much closer than Game 1. Head coach Kevin McHale elected to start Patrick Beverley and go small with Jeremy Lin, James, Harden, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik.
The small lineup was an equalizer for the Rockets as the Thunder tried to match up with them.
The Thunder have a much harder time beating teams when both have a small lineup on the floor. There are just so many more holes in the Thunder defense when they are small and when their opponent spaces the floor properly, they can score a bunch on OKC (the 4th most efficient defense in the regular season).
We saw that last night as Harden finished with 36 points and seemed to have a lot more space to operate in than in Game 1. Beverley was also very effective scoring 16.
The Rockets were able to get 18 offensive rebounds as well which was due mostly to the fact that the Thunder weren’t as sound defensively.
This has been a theme all season for the Thunder. They struggle against teams that can go small.
People think the Thunder are fine at going small because Durant is so effective as a stretch four but their defense becomes so much worse.
The reason OKC is still able to beat Houston is because the Rockets simply don’t have the defensive chops to stop the Thunder. The Thunder are hardly turning the ball over vs. Houston and are getting plenty of good shots throughout the series.
This issue vs. small lineups is not an issue in this series but will be going forward in these playoffs for OKC.
We saw what the Miami Heat did to them in the NBA Finals a year ago. If the Thunder see the Clippers and Spurs in the next two rounds, two teams that go small quite a bit, OKC will be in a lot of trouble.
Right now, it almost feels like the Thunder would be better off sticking to their bigger lineups. At least they should be able to have an advantage on the offensive glass, something that the Thunder haven’t been great at taking advantage of this season.
If you’re closing out games with Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison as the two bigs then you will be fine having one of them stick a spot-up shooter in the corner. Closing out games with Kendrick Perkins over Collison won’t be as effective but still might be better defensively than the small lineups the Thunder have been using.
In the past, Scott Brooks seemed pretty committed to the traditional lineups to close out games. This year though Brooks has gone small more often than not and nearly always when facing another small lineup.
This will at best make the games very close for the Thunder. Durant and Russell Westbrook are good enough to close out any close game but it’s no guarantee this way, especially when the Clippers will have Chris Paul and the Spurs Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
This is the biggest worry right now for a Thunder team that really has been great this year. It’s nitpicking but pay attention to when the Thunder go small and how their defense really suffers. It’s worrisome.