The Oklahoma City Thunder will attempt to eliminate the Houston Rockets Friday night. The Thunder won the first three games of the series, but have not been able to finish the job, losing the last two.
Of course, the biggest story has been how Kevin Durant will lead the Thunder without Russell Westbrook. In the three games since Westbrook was injured, Durant has done his part for Oklahoma City, averaging 38.3 points on 52.2-percent shooting from the field.
But even with Durant scoring 10 points more per game than his season average (28.1) while also maintaining over 50 percent shooting from the field, the Thunder have lost two of their three games without Westbrook.
The Rockets are doing a great job of keying in on Durant, which is an expected result of Westbrook's absence. They've correctly sent extra defenders at him, as the Thunder have proven to be inconsistent on offense when the ball is out of Durant's hands.
Houston is scheming to force Durant to take the toughest shot possible. Here, the Rockets are going to crowd Durant in the pick and roll. Durant tries to pop over the top of the screen to get what should be a clean look off the dribble, but Chandler Parsons steps up.
Durant pulls up for the shot, but has two defenders to shoot over. Thabo Sefolosha is ignored on the perimeter as the Rockets are sacrificing open looks to the rest of the Thunder while chasing Durant. It pays off for Houston, as Durant misses.
Even if Durant breaks down his man in isolation, he still doesn't always have a clean look. While the Thunder want and need to rely on Durant to shoulder the scoring load, he can't always take the shot. Here, he'll drive past Francisco Garcia, but Omer Asik shifts back with Durant and gets into the paint to help.
Durant spins around Garcia, but Asik has already rotated. Serge Ibaka lingers on the perimeter, becoming the "forgotten" man as the Rockets send extra help.
Asik does a great job of holding his ground and putting his arms up without committing a foul. Durant still tries to shoot over the top, but misses.
With the amount of attention the Rockets are giving Durant, it will be up to the rest of the Thunder players to either cut off the ball towards the rim or make open shots when he kicks it out.
But even despite all this attention, Durant is getting his. The problem for the Thunder has been the rest of the offense. Taking Durant's shooting away from the Thunder since Westbrook went down, they've made only 38 percent of their shots, which puts Durant in a bind. He has been the Thunder's most efficient option on offense, but since the Rockets are focusing their defensive efforts around him, he can't be the only player taking shots for Oklahoma City.
Durant has been great at handling the ball for the Thunder, taking advantage of the Rockets' lack of perimeter defenders. The Rockets have adjusted by collapsing into the paint, which should open up easy looks for other players. But the Rockets have had the upper hand because of the Thunder's weak perimeter shooting.
On this play, Durant drives into the paint again.
Durant will pull both defenders in the paint towards him as he drives, leaving Kevin Martin open in the corner.
Durant can't do more for the Thunder than he does through this play. He beat his defender, drove into the paint, and passed to a wide-open Martin in one of the most efficient spots on the floor.
But Martin misses the outside shot. He finished Game 5 going 1-10 from the field and missed all five of his three-point field goal attempts. Martin converting on attempts like this is crucial for the Thunder going forward, as his role as a scorer in the offense will be heightened. More often than not, all he'll have to do is stand in the corner, catch the ball and shoot.
Problem is, Martin has made only nine of his 32 shots from the field overall and is shooting 28 percent from beyond the arc.
Durant is going to be able to break through a single defender throughout this series. Having players ready to knock down the shot created off of his dribble penetration is going to be the most important piece of the Thunder's offense without Westbrook.
The Rockets consistently showed the same reaction by collapsing. Here, Durant will again break his defender down from the perimeter and drive into the paint.
Durant pulls four out of five Rockets defenders towards him as he drives. Reggie Jackson watches and waits in the corner.
Durant again kicks out to a teammate after creating all the space a shooter could possibly need.
In this instance, Jackson knocked the shot down. That's the difference between a win and a loss for Oklahoma City.
The Thunder's big men are also getting open looks because of the Rockets' shrinking of the open floor in front of Durant. If the Thunder are going to close this series out and continue adjusting to life without Westbrook, they will have to be aware and ready to finish at the rim.
This is an example of the kind of plays Oklahoma City needs out of their frontcourt. Here, Durant is going to move off-ball to the perimeter and Ibaka will set a screen in front of Parsons.
Asik goes over the top to get to Durant.
Jackson swings the ball to Durant. Both Asik and Parsons stay on Durant while Ibaka floats back towards the rim.
As Durant drives he pulls in four defenders and dishes it to Ibaka.
Ibaka flushes an easy dunk with only James Harden trotting by.
Easy buckets are there for the Thunder. It's just a matter of finishing the play. Durant has done everything he can on offense to keep the Thunder on course, scoring effectively without Westbrook and taking on more responsibility as a ball-handler and facilitator, but his teammates need to step up and take advantage of high-quality shots.
Can the Rockets continue to live with allowing the Thunder's role players take shots without a defender within five feet? It's time for Durant's team to help him and finally deliver the finishing blow in this series.