- The Thunder will have to find a way to win without All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook for the first time Saturday, when Westbrook will miss the first game of his professional career after suffering a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee during the second quarter of Oklahoma City’s Game 2 victory Wednesday. Reggie Jackson will start in place of Westbrook, who underwent successful surgery Saturday and will miss the remainder of the postseason after appearing in 439 consecutive NBA contests including the playoffs. “We’re not looking to replace Russell’s points and his ability to score,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We’re looking to replace some of the intangibles that Russel brings. … I think you have to be able to focus on doing a little bit more, not a lot.”
- Rockets guard Jeremy Lin is battling a bruised chest, but he will start. Lin, who missed the second half of Game 2 after sustaining the injury in a collision with Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha, said his chest issue is not restricting him enough to force him to the sidelines.
- Houston coach Kevin McHale will continue to utilize the small-ball tactics that helped his team generate more high-percentage shots in Game 2, which came on the heels of a stagnant offensive performance in Game 1. Lin, Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik will remain in the Rockets’ starting five. “With all the switching and all the stuff [the Thunder] do, you got to break that shell,” McHale said. “They put a tight shell out there [on the perimeter]. But once you break that shell and get on the inside, a lot of stuff can open up. … That’s how we have to play. We don’t have a dominant inside presence.”
- Houston reserve center Greg Smith is unlikely to play due to stomach distress, but McHale said an official decision has not been reached. “Greg’s sitting in the locker room not looking too spry,” McHale said. “We’ll see where that goes. Hopefully he starts feeling a little better.”
- Brooks was hardly impressed with his club’s immediate reaction to the soft 2-3 zone defense the Rockets threw at Oklahoma City late in Game 2, which helped transform a 15-point deficit into a four-point advantage. Brooks, however, said he was pleased with the trust his players showed in each other after they lost the lead, using ball movement to exploit the weak spots in Houston’s zone. Five different players scored for the Thunder, who dished out an assist on each of their final four baskets, as they knocked down four of five field-goal attempts and shot 4-for-6 at the line over the last 3:30 of Game 2. “As far as scoring, we all have to do it together. We just have to make the right decisions and work for the best play,” forward Kevin Durant said. “For us to come in here [Houston] and win, we all have to take it up a notch.”
– Matt Miller