I hope I don’t come off too pessimistic, but I like the Rockets in Game 6. How could you not? The Thunder has not played well for 21/2 games without Russell Westbrook. That first 15 minutes or so of Game 3, when the Thunder led 48-22, OKC was sensational. But the Thunder was playing on emotion, and emotion runs out.
Since then, everything has been a mosh pit for the Western Conference’s top seed. And now the Thunder plays Houston tonight, knowing a defeat imperils the Thunder with dubious history. Only four teams ever have lost three straight in a series after winning three straight. None has lost the series. But the Thunder, wandering in the wilderness without Westbrook, could be the first.
The Thunder has shown that it relies mostly on talent, not a system. The Thunder is proud of its culture, which is admirable, but that culture doesn’t extend to a basketball system. The Thunder has struggled to find offensive cohesion, while its defense has been wildly inconsistent. Great quarters, followed by disastrous quarters. The Rockets have gone on epic runs against OKC.
Meanwhile, a team like the Bulls — not as talented as the Thunder — keeps losing players and keeps hanging tough. No Derrick Rose. Then no Kirk Hinrich. Then no Luol Deng. Players fouling out. And yet Chicago keeps perservering. Playing the same style and the same brand it did before the curse of lost players.
That hasn’t been the case with the Thunder. Westbrook’s void is huge. The Thunder hasn’t come close to adjusting. I hope it does for Game 6. But I’m not optimistic it will.