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OKC Thunder: Starting lineup has struggled against Rockets

Billy Donovan made his first substitution at the 5:28 mark in the first quarter. 

The Thunder’s starting five had dug an early 16-7 deficit thanks to 3-of-17 shooting in the first six and a half minutes of Game 5. The same group allowed an 8-0 Rockets run to open the second half before Donovan pulled the plug after just two minutes. 

Something isn’t clicking with the Thunder’s starting five, and slow starts to both halves Saturday night contributed to OKC’s 114-80 loss to Houston. 

The combination of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams is getting outscored by 44.2 points per 100 possessions in the series. 

That group has played 50 minutes — 18 more than the Thunder’s second-most used lineup, which swaps Dort for Dennis Schroder. 

While the starting five doesn’t play the entire first quarter together, it’s at least part of the reason why the Thunder has trailed after the first quarter in each of the five games. Houston has won first quarters by a combined 153-122 margin. 

“I really thought the intention of the way we were trying to play and what we were trying to do was correct,” Donovan said of the start Saturday. “We just didn’t have a great shooting night.” 

The Thunder shot 5-of-26 in the first quarter, including 1-of-12 from 3-point range. 

Adams said he couldn’t diagnose the struggles of the starting five without watching film. 

“We needed to play faster, probably,” Adams said. 

The Thunder’s starting lineup is scoring just 81.2 points per 100 possessions while giving up 125.5 points. It’s a small sample, but all samples are small in the playoffs. 

Of the Thunder’s five lineup combinations that have played at least 10 minutes in the series, the most effective has been the small-ball group of Paul, Schroder, Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort and Gallinari. 

That lineup is outscoring the Rockets by 32.3 points per 100 possessions. 

It’s unlikely Donovan will alter his starting lineup Monday night, but the Thunder can’t waste minutes in a win or go home Game 6. 

Related Photos
Aug 29, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) shoots the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari (8) and center Steven Adams (12) during the first quarter in game five of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 29, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) shoots the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari (8) and center Steven Adams (12) during the first quarter in game five of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House....

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e44d1f0481732bb27f76a3240dfb81ce.jpg" alt="Photo - Aug 29, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) shoots the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari (8) and center Steven Adams (12) during the first quarter in game five of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports" title="Aug 29, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) shoots the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari (8) and center Steven Adams (12) during the first quarter in game five of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports"><figcaption>Aug 29, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) shoots the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari (8) and center Steven Adams (12) during the first quarter in game five of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports</figcaption></figure>
Joe Mussatto

Joe Mussatto joined The Oklahoman in August 2018 to cover OU football, men’s basketball and softball. He previously covered University of Kentucky football and basketball for SEC Country. Mussatto is from Oklahoma City and lives in Norman. Read more ›

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