NBA Playoffs 2017: 5 things we learned from the Rockets beating the Thunder

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The Houston Rockets took down the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, 4-1. Here’s five takeaways from the series.

With a 105-99 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of their best-of-seven series on Tuesday night, the Houston Rockets have advanced to the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, winning the series four games to one. They await the winner of the series between the Spurs and Grizzlies, which the Spurs currently lead 3-2. Game 6 takes place on Thursday night in Memphis. But before we look too far ahead (who am I kidding, I’ve already done that), let’s first take a look back at the Rockets-Thunder series and see what went right, what went wrong and how both teams could make improvements moving forward.

5. Mike D’Antoni outcoached Billy Donovan

While he has plenty of competition in Brad Stevens, Scott Brooks and Jason Kidd, Mike D’Antoni might just win NBA Coach of the Year honors in his first year with the Rockets.

Houston did not play its best basketball against the Thunder and they were still able to take the series in five. A lot of that was due to D’Antoni, who made great adjustments throughout the series to give his team the best chance to win. When James Harden wasn’t shooting the basketball well, he made sure that the right options were out there to keep his offense churning, even if sometimes it wasn’t the offense that he’s used to running. Houston has no problem putting up plenty of 3-pointers but when they weren’t falling, they took the ball in the paint and got some big production from Nene, most notably in Game 4 when he scored 28 points on 12-of-12 shooting.

D’Antoni recognized that his big man couldn’t be stopped and he pounced. And if someone like Lou Williams caught fire from the outside, he left him out there because again, it gave his team the best chance to win. Outside of the Game 1 blowout, D’Antoni used just eight players on a regular basis and every one of them had a standout game in one way or another. D’Antoni stayed patient, recognized what was happening and let the game come to him and his team.

The same just can’t be said for Billy Donovan and the Thunder. The second-year coach had his time fired up at the beginning of every game but they just could never maintain. Yes, he’s got the problem of not having as much talent on his roster but some of his decision-making was a bit questionable. His decision to keep Andre Roberson on the floor in Game 4 when he couldn’t make a free throw was confusing. Outside of that, Roberson did have a great series but when a guy is costing you easy points (and his name isn’t Shaquille O’Neal), he needs to come out, especially with as many whistles as there are in the final minutes of an NBA game. Keep him in on defense but don’t let him near the basketball in a close game.

Doug McDermott should have played more minutes to give Oklahoma City another outside threat, especially with the poor shooting throughout the series from Victor Oladipo, and Donovan losing faith in Enes Kanter had to hurt his backup center’s confidence a bit. But then again, Kanter did struggle in some pick-and-roll situations early in the series. It was clear to see that Billy Donovan isn’t yet on the same level as Mike D’Antoni. The better team and the better coach just won out in this situation.

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