Just over one week ago, a Game 7 between the Rockets and Thunder was inconceivable. Oklahoma City had built up a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series lead behind strong play from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Then Westbrook suffered a knee injury that forced him to make an early exit from the playoffs. Now Houston is on a two-game winning streak and back at home with a chance to push the matchup to a winner-take-all Game 7. It's been quite a turn of events.
James Harden and company are playing with house money at this point, and that makes them a dangerous team. Meanwhile, OKC is still struggling to recapture its identity. Here's a look at three key issues for Game 6.
Will OKC Role Players Be Able To Fill In For Westbrook?
No single player can replace Russell Westbrook. His responsibilities must be broken into smaller pieces and passed around to a variety of role players. Kevin Martin will need to score a bit more, Reggie Jackson has to penetrate into the lane and create for teammates, and Serge Ibaka may have to do more to stretch defenders away from Kevin Durant.
Tom Ziller of SB Nation wrote about the big adjustments OKC will have to make earlier in the week:
So, Westbrook has been creating a huge portion of OKC's shots through his own aggression and passing for five seasons now. He'd never missed a game before last week. Every time KD has stepped on the court since October, 2008, Westbrook has been right there with the ball largely in his hands. All those scoring titles? Russ was there, feeding. The epic shooting numbers? Russ was there, feeding. All those wins? Russ was there. That run to the NBA Finals last year? Russ was there.
Now, Russ is not there. It's going to take time to adjust regardless of who or what replaces Westbrook and that which he did. Reggie Jackson is pretty good, but he's not the same as Russ. Kevin Martin can score, Derek Fisher can direct traffic, KD can do more. But the absence of Russ in and of itself is a massive adjustment. OKC, and specifically KD, have never had to figure out how to play without Westbrook. Scott Brooks has never had to coach a game without Westbrook. Now, they do. During a playoff series. Against a pretty good team. With 1-3 more really good teams between them and the title.
Will OKC Players Ease Off Patrick Beverley?
Ever since Beverley lunged in front of Russell Westbrook on a controversial play that led to Westbrook's injury, Thunder players have been going after the Rockets' point guard during games. Kendrick Perkins delivered a hard hit in Game 4, and then Reggie Jackson returned the Westbrook gesture in Game 5. Is this saga over yet? It would be nice to see OKC ease off Houston's feisty guard and focus more on shutting him down than knocking him down.
Can The Rockets Set The Scene For An Historic Upset?
No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. The unforeseen events surrounding this series have set up a potential stunner, but first the Rockets have to take care of business at home in Game 6 to bring things to a head. Here's to hoping we get a bit more drama in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Thunder vs. Rockets, Game 6 (OKC lead series, 3-2)
Game Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
Odds: Houston is a one-point favorite at home, according to OddsShark.com