As much as the Oklahoma City Thunder might miss Russell Westbrook, the fact of the matter is that Kevin Durant is still around. The Thunder also remain an experienced, underrated defensive squad. Though it relinquished a 26-point lead, Oklahoma City held off the Houston Rockets 104-101 in Game 3 of the first round series, setting up Monday night's elimination game in Houston.
James Harden scored 30 points and had enough support from teammates Chandler Parsons and Francisco Garcia in the slim loss, yet Houston has yet to find an answer to beat the Thunder. At the same time, Oklahoma City is still learning on the fly after Russell Westbrook's season-ending knee injury. Here are three questions heading into Game 4.
Can the Rockets find enough playmakers?
Houston's offense has been effective enough and in two of the games the Rockets have been within three points at the final buzzer. But to extend the series, Kevin McHale needs someone to get hot -- or at least a few of James Harden's supporting cast members to do more than their usual amount of work. Even in Game 3 when Parsons scored 22 and Garcia dropped 18, the starting backcourt of an injured Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley combined for just eight points.
Beverley, Garcia, Parsons and Carlos Delfino must do enough to outpace the Thunder offense. Meanwhile, McHale must determine if he can get anything out of Lin, who is dealing with a chest contusion. If not, the Rockets will need someone to produce in his place.
Will Oklahoma City develop better ball movement?
This isn't so much an issue in this series. Rather, it's one to look at in the big picture. The Thunder won't survive down the road with Durant needing to score at high rates without much help. Serge Ibaka is a decent complementary offensive weapon and Kevin Martin can knock down some jumpers, but Oklahoma City is still going to be learning on the fly to run a decent offense without Russell Westbrook.
That means fewer isolation plays and more ball movement, something that wasn't happening in Game 3, where the Thunder recorded 14 total assists. Durant has shown he can pass the ball well, and he'll have to start doing so as defenses hone in on his individual offense.
What's the trajectory of Reggie Jackson's growth?
On a smaller scale, the growth of Reggie Jackson is an interesting storyline to follow as this series ends and the next begins. Win or lose Game 4, the Thunder will rely upon the young point guard to knock down open shots and keep a calmness about the offense when Durant isn't dictating things. Furthermore, how he develops as a defensive player will be a thing to watch down the road, where he is likely to run into one talented point guard or another.
Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
Odds: Oklahoma City opened as a two-point favorite.