At the end of his rookie season, Kobe Bryant missed a lot of shots. In one particular game, he heaved up a series of air balls with the game on the line. He was 18 years old. This is how it goes with young players. They come into the league as boys and have to face grown men whose development is substantially further along. It's just part of the maturation process.
Much like Bryant, the Rockets suffered a baptism by fire of sorts against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game one of their first-round playoff series. After keeping it relatively close in the first half, the Thunder went on a run to close out the half and then poured it on in the second half, coasting to a 120-91 victory. To continue my earlier metaphor, the Thunder are grown-ass men and the Rockets are still in puberty.
James Harden, the former OKC guard who heard it from the crowd all night, was the only Rocket to make a dent in the Thunder with 20, but on only 6-19 shooting. Point guard Jermey Lin chose game one to drop a massive clunker notching triple fours with 4 points, 4 assists and 4 turnovers. No starter other than Harden got to double digits, and only Patrick Beverly and Carlos Delfino managed to get to 10 points.
The Rockets shot 36 percent from the floor and 22 percent from beyond the arc. They allowed the Thunder to shoot 53 percent from the floor. Needless to say, it was a disaster nearly from the start. In fact, the Rockets didn't appear to realize the game had started barely getting into double digits in points by the halfway point of the first quarter.
Shell-shocked might be the best way to describe the way the young Rockets looked throughout most of the night.
Repeatedly the Thunder exposed a porous Rockets defense. Too often, the Rockets would gamble, swiping at balls for steals as their man zipped past them. They consistently left shooters wide open with poor defensive rotations. The result was garbage time in the fourth quarter and 30-point stomping.
And this was on a night when the Thunder's two stars seemed mortal through most of the game. Kevin Durant finished with 24 points and Russell Westbrook with 19, but neither was particularly sharp early. That was left to center Serge Ibaka, who seemed to be everywhere on defense blocking and intimidating shots. He finished with 17 points and was the catalyst for the run that put the Rockets away.
Fortunately, it's only game one. Only the most ardent of Rockets fans believed they could beat the Thunder in this first-round series and it would be little surprise if they went down in a sweep, but now that they've had the chance to get the feel of real playoff basketball, maybe they can at least make game two respectable.