HOUSTON — The temptation is to change without Russell Westbrook in the Thunder lineup. The temptation is to try to exploit that gaping hole in the backcourt.
But going back to that infamous apple hanging from the tree, temptation has often led to trouble.
“We can’t change who we are,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “We can’t suddenly change our style and become some team that we’re not. It’s not like we’re gonna show up and suddenly play like an inside-out team with Hakeem Olajuwon in the middle.”
The task for the Rockets in Game 3 tonight at the Toyota Center is to keep stomping down hard on the gas pedal, keep moving the basketball from side to side on the court and continue to play with the sense of urgency that was evident in their fourth-quarter comeback in Game 2.
The absence of Westbrook does not mean the Rockets are facing a situation that is any less desperate.
Of 44 previous No. 8 seeds to fall into an 0-2 hole in the first round of the playoffs, only one has managed to climb back out.
“We’ve got a one-game season,” McHale said. “That’s as simple as it is. We better be desperate. We’re down 2-0 coming home in a playoff series. We got to play well. We got to do all the things we did last game, but more.”
Rather than an OKC that is reeling, the Rockets have got to figure the Thunder will come rolling with an added measure of emotion. They have got to expect that the league’s second-leading scorer Kevin Durant will now have the ball in his hands even more and will put up more shots.
“That sounds like fun for me,” said Chandler Parsons, who will get the lion’s share of the defensive duty on Durant.
“Anytime someone goes down, it gives the team an opportunity for someone to step up. (Westbrook’s) a huge part of their team. They’re hurting right now. That’s one of their leaders. That’s one of their best players going down.
“Now we’ve got to really get them while they’re down. Obviously we have an opportunity…and we have to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Just because Westbrook is out doesn’t mean we’re not still down 0-2. The urgency’s still there and it’s probably even more now. Just understanding that it’s a very winnable game and we need to go in there and set the tone and really make this series fun by getting a win.”
The Rockets are expecting that Reggie Jackson will get the start for OKC in Westbrook’s place, but they can’t afford to concern themselves with match-ups.
Houston could be missing a cog in its own starting lineup depending on the status of point guard Jeremy Lin. He suffered a bruised chest muscle in Game 2 and is considered a game-time decision. However Lin did take part in Saturday morning’s shootaround. Big man Greg Smith was suffering from stomach distress and did not participate in the shootaround.
Nevertheless, what’s important for the Rockets is to clean up all of the problems in their own game. In the series opener, the NBA’s youngest team was overwhelmed by the first playoff experience for most of the roster and was swamped. When the ball moved better in their offense and presented open shots in Game 2, the Rockets made just 36 of 91 shots and were only 10-for-34 from behind the 3-point line.
And the one thing the Rockets cannot do at all is think for even a moment that Westbrook’s absence could make things easier.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” said forward Carlos Delfino.