The Denver Nuggets managed to outlast the Utah Jazz in a gritty, hard-fought Game 7 on Tuesday night. Wednesday brings another Game 7, with the Oklahoma City Thunder looking to shock the Houston Rockets from the Disney World bubble in Orlando.
The Rockets probably should have won this series by now. Houston had more than its fair share of chances to win every game they have lost so far in this series, yet Chris Paul and the Thunder have refused to roll over. Oklahoma City has come from behind in all three of their wins thus far, and it’s only fitting that this series between a couple of teams with such intertwined histories would come down to a winner-take-all final game.
Game 7 is a particularly important game for the Rockets. The fates of both head coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey depend on Houston closing this series out. Could Houston look to trade James Harden, Russell Westbrook, or both, if the team fails to get out of the first round? Everything is on the table.
Oddsmakers are confident in Houston’s chances, but that’s been the case in every game of the series to this point. The Rockets are 5.5-point favorites in Game 7, which comes with an over/under of 217.5 points.
This game may well wind up defining James Harden’s legacy with the Rockets. He has become a perennial MVP candidate since leaving Oklahoma City for Houston back in 2012, but he has yet to lead the Rockets to an appearance in the Finals, let alone a championship. Houston is billed as a title contender on an annual basis, but Harden’s time with the team has been marred by repeated failures in the postseason.
Losing this series, to Paul and the Thunder, would obviously sting. The Harden-Paul era came to an acrimonious end in Houston last summer, when CP3 was shipped to OKC in exchange for Russell Westbrook. Harden led the NBA in scoring during the regular season with an average of 34.4 points per game, but so far in this series his scoring average has dipped to 31.8.
Harden has had a difficult time dealing with OKC’s best wing defender, Luguentz Dort. Dort’s physicality has made things tough for Harden in the series, and the former MVP didn’t even touch the ball during crunch time in the Rockets’ Game 6 loss. Harden will have to be more assertive offensively if Houston is to advance to face the Lakers in the next round. He can’t be a passenger with the game on the line if he wants to go down as one of the best scorers in league history.
Houston will also need better performances from its ancillary pieces. Both Westbrook and Eric Gordon struggled massively in Game 6. Westbrook committed seven turnovers, including one in the game’s waning moments that essentially clinched the win for Oklahoma City. Gordon shot just 3-for-12, and so far in this series, he’s shooting worse than 40 percent from the field and just 17.9 percent from three-point range.
Can OKC Pull the Upset?
The Thunder were given virtually no chance of even making the playoffs when the season began. Oklahoma City seemingly punted on contending when they traded Westbrook and Paul George last summer, but it shouldn’t surprise many in retrospect that this team exceeded expectations. Paul is a proven winner, while veteran pieces like Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams are solid commodities in this league. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a future star, while Dennis Schroder has fit in perfectly as a microwave scoring option off the bench.
That said, the Thunder clearly don’t have the firepower to hang with Houston if the Rockets are firing on all cylinders. OKC has needed a bunch of breaks to go their way just to get where they are. Their biggest win in the series was a 12-point margin in Game 3, but that was an overtime game in which Harden fouled out early in the extra session. They won Game 4 by just three points and Game 6 by just four. Westbrook also missed the first four games of the series dealing with a quad issue, and his minutes have been limited in the two games he has played.
We expected Chris Paul to be motivated against his former team, and he has lived up to the billing. CP3 has averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game in this series, and he hit a couple of huge three-pointers in the waning moments of Game 6 to bring Oklahoma City back from the dead. Paul is at his best when he’s being assertive offensively, and he’ll have to take that kind of approach tonight if the Thunder are to stage the upset.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets Pick
While we know the Rockets’ dependence on making three-pointers means they’re capable of losing to anybody, it’s hard to shake the feeling that even an average shooting game out of Houston would be enough to bury the Thunder. Houston has averaged more than 51 three-point attempts per game in this series, and they’re connecting on just 36 percent of them thus far.
Houston has had no issues getting plenty of open looks against Oklahoma City. It’s really just a matter of the shots going in at this point. The Rockets are a high-variance offense as a result of their style, but I still can’t shake the feeling that they should be able to take care of business tonight.
I like Houston to cover the 5.5-point spread in Game 7. There could be some jitters and ugly offense in this game, as we saw last night with Utah-Denver, but the Rockets’ roster is a team full of guys that have been tested in these moments over the years. Frankly, this is a game the Rockets just can’t afford to let slip away, and I think their stars will show up in this one.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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