Kevin McHale was asked before Wednesday night's game, his team's second date with a potential season-ending scenario, why this Thunder-Rockets series has been filled with so many 3-point shots.
“If guys are open, you shoot 'em,” Houston's coach said. “So they must be open.”
Suddenly, only the Rockets are making them.
Houston moved another step closer to flipping this series and shocking the top-seeded but short-handed Thunder with a 107-100 win in Game 5 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. With the victory, the Rockets pulled within 3-2 in this best-of-seven series after trailing 3-0.
Game 6 is Friday night back in Houston.
“You have to give them credit,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “They came out and played lights out. They shot the ball so well. Some were contested. Some were not contested … But we have to do a better job.”
As simple as it sounds, Houston has shifted this series by sinking shots.
The Rockets connected on 14 of 35 3-pointers (40 percent) Wednesday and shot 47.2 percent from the field. In the last two games, the Rockets have made 26 of 62 3-pointers, a 41.9 percent clip.
“The basket's getting wider for them every game,” said Thunder forward Kevin Durant.
By comparison, the Rockets made just 28 percent of their 3-point tries in the first three games of this series.
“We were due for a couple of 40 percent shooting nights from the 3-point line,” McHale said.
It's clear, meanwhile, that Oklahoma City is getting sucked into Houston's style. First, the Thunder yielded its size advantage in Game 2 and began matching the Rockets' small ball. And then the Thunder, ever since that closer-than-expected Game 2, began bombing 3s.
The Thunder attempted 33 3-pointers Wednesday, making only eight, a 24.2 percent night. It's the second time in this series that the Thunder has hoisted at least 30 3-pointers.
In five games, the Thunder has now attempted 28.6 3s on average.
In the regular season, the Thunder averaged only 19.4.
“They're giving us opportunities,” Brooks said. “They're loading up the paint and we have to be able to knock some of those down. But we also have to be able to take it to the basket and get to the paint.”
All the settling for outside shots is a direct sign of how much the Thunder misses point guard Russell Westbrook, who watched Wednesday's woeful performance from a suite inside the arena while healing from his season-ending knee injury.
Without the explosiveness of Westbrook, the Thunder's offense has slowed to a crawl. Fast-break opportunities have dried up, attacks on the basket have been few and far between, and as the Rockets defense has focused solely on stopping Durant the Thunder has relied on marginal outside shooting threats to emerge as the team's safety blanket.
James Harden, however, made one less 3-pointer than the entire Thunder team. He swished his first seven from downtown before missing his final two. He finished with a team-high 31 points.