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Playoffs 2020

NBA Playoffs 2020: Can Steven Adams be the difference-maker against the small-ball Rockets?

Styles make fights and the Houston Rockets have shifted the paradigms of traditional basketball with their super-small lineup.

Currently holding a 3-2 series lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in their first-round series, the Rockets have relied on 6'5" P.J. Tucker and 6'7" Robert Covington as their starting front court and so far, they've enjoyed reasonable success, not surrendering their size advantage to the Thunder's big bodies in Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel.

While Adams hasn't imposed his will in the paint, he is averaging a double-double of 11.0 points and 11.6 rebounds, however, he is averaging just 0.2 blocks per game, down from 1.1 per game in the regular season.

Through five games in the series, the Thunder hold an offensive rating of 97.0 points per 100 possessions with Adams on the court, jumping to 103.7 with him on the bench. Similarly, their defensive rating stands at 113.2 points per 100 possessions with Adams on the floor, tightening up to 105.6 with him on the bench.

While the numbers jump out, the Rockets' inclination to switch everything on defence has made life tough for the Thunder guards and their ability to create out of the pick-and-roll, regularly forcing them into tough perimeter shots.

The small-ball Rockets, who are shooting 3s at a historic rate this postseason, have done a great job pulling Adams away from the rim to guard Tucker in the corners, opening up driving opportunities for James Harden and co to get into the paint unbothered by Adams' hulking frame.

In Game 3, which saw OKC emerge with a 119-117 win in overtime, head coach Billy Donovan brought Adams to the bench down the stretch in favour of Danilo Gallinari at the five to match the Rockets' floor-spacing.

The result: They outscored the Rockets 15-3 in the extra period with Gallinari at centre, a position he's barely played for the Thunder this season, but the results speak for themselves.

While beating the Rockets at their own game is impressive, the Thunder have to find ways to maximise their size advantage in the paint and put pressure on their undersized frontcourt. Through five games the Rockets are outscoring the Thunder in the paint 202-188, despite giving up plenty of size inside.

An impressive feat considering Adams' presence rebounding on the offensive glass.

"We've got a huge advantage in Steven Adams," head coach Billy Donovan told reporters. "Steven is a rim protector, a rim roller and an offensive rebounder. I think a lot of times people maybe look at the fact that Houston's small and you sit there and you say, 'OK, we've just gotta go small to match them."

Will the Thunder look to match the Rockets' small lineup in their win-or-go-home Game 6 or will Adams' presence inside prove to be the difference-maker?

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