Despite missing Russell Westbrook and his production due to what could be a season-ending knee injury, Kevin Durant led the way for the Oklahoma City Thunder with 18 points at the half on Monday night to give the Thunder a commanding 60-53 lead over the Houston Rockets.
Durant showed that he can do it all, notching three assists, two rebounds and one steal in the process. Kevin Martin is benefiting from the open looks he's creating and has 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-5 from the three-point line. This outstanding preview from SB Nation's own Kevin Zimmerman addressed three important keys to Houston's first elimination game:
Can the Rockets find enough playmakers?
Houston has to find a way to overcome a slow start by James Harden with strong performances from Chandler Parsons, Francisco Garcia and Omer Asik. They are still struggling sharing the ball, as evidenced by their 11 assists through the first two quarters.
Parsons in particular is on his way to becoming a star in the league, and if he can lead the Rockets past the Thunder in order to survive, especially on a night where Harden clearly isn't at his best, then it will go a long way toward solidifying his already-growing confidence as a young player with obvious talent.
But if Houston wants to get back in this game, they'll need Harden to get going on the offensive end. Or, Carlos Delfino will have to continue to rain threes, as he's 2-for-3 from deep to this point.
Will Oklahoma City develop better ball movement?
The short answer here is that OKC hasn't had to develop great ball movement since they are creating so well off the dribble. With only 8 assists thus far, they have mitigated that number by shooting a whopping 58.3 percent from the field. Where they've really created a disparity is at the free-throw line, where they've been one of the NBA's best all season long. In Game 4, they are 12-for-13.
Despite those numbers, Martin and Derek Fisher have benefited from the attention that Durant draws, going a combined 5-for-8 from beyond the arc and scoring 23 combined points.
What's the trajectory of Reggie Jackson's growth?
He's trending upward. The young point guard is having an efficient night, with eight points on 4-of-6 shooting. The good news for the Thunder, however, is that he hasn't had to do much due to the strong shooting performance across the board and the leadership of Durant.