Carlson: OKC Thunder report card still lacking top marks for Chris Paul, reserves
The Thunder vowed adjustments after Game 1, and Oklahoma City delivered change in Game 2 — but it still wasn't enough. The Rockets won 111-98 and took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. The grades reflect an improved-but-not-quite-good-enough performance:
C: Chris Paul continues to struggle. He finished with 14 points, six rebounds and two assists, but his plus-minus of minus-36 was eye popping in the worst way. He was on the court for some dreadful second-half stretches. After the game, Paul was extremely critical of himself. "I gotta do more," he said. "Straight up. It's that simple. ... Guys worked hard. We put ourselves in position to win that game. I gotta be better for us." Speaking of those dreadful stretches ...
D: Houston's reserves again outscored OKC's, 32-20 on Thursday, but the discrepancy wasn't as big a factor until the fourth quarter. Fueled largely by role players, the Rockets turned a deficit at the end of the third quarter into a double-digit lead in less than five minutes. And James Harden was sitting on the bench the whole time. The spurt was fueled by Danuel House Jr. (seven points), Jeff Green (six) and Eric Gordon (two). House and Gordon are starters, of course, but Gordon wouldn't be if Russell Westbrook was healthy. OKC has to make hay when Houston is superstarless, and instead, the Rockets are growing leads with Harden or Westbrook on the court.
Defending Harden's shooting
A: Lu Dort gets a lion's share of the credit for Harden's 5-of-16 performance. At one point during the ESPN broadcast, analyst Jeff Van Gundy said the video of Dort defending Harden should be part of a clinic. Agreed. But Dennis Schroder held his own against Harden, too. Schroder was helped by the fact he didn't have to defend Harden as much with Dort healthy. Harden is going to score — 21 points on Thursday — but Dort and Schroder made it tough Thursday.
Defending Harden's passing
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D: The guy is a master at moving the ball around. He's not a better passer than shooter, but it's closer than you might think. And as shots became more difficult to come by Thursday, Harden started looking for teammates. He hit Green at one point in the fourth quarter with a one-hand, no-look, behind-the-back pass for a wide-open three. Harden finished with nine assists, giving the Thunder one more issue it has to guard against moving forward.
C: Again, better than Game 1, but it still wasn't where it needs to be in the playoffs. After a stand-around start, player movement was decent in the first half. Ditto for ball movement. As a result, the Thunder had a six-point halftime lead. But in the second half, things went stagnant again. Lots of standing around to arc. Lots of holding the ball. The result were the defining stretches of the second half, a half in which the Thunder managed only 39 points. "I don't know if it was stagnant or slow or whatever it was," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, "but we weren't necessarily playing with that same kind of force that we did in the first half. That's the challenge."