Mike D'Antoni isn't one to give a long leash to his bench in the postseason, and that tendency continued in the final games against Oklahoma City in round one.
D'Antoni effectively deployed a seven-man rotation in Game 6 and Game 7, giving a vast majority of reserve minutes to Danuel House and Jeff Green. Ben McLemore played sparingly in Game 6, then not at all in Game 7. Austin Rivers saw just seven minutes in the elimination game. D'Antoni didn't hesitate to yank either guard after an brief ineffective stretch.
Houston's head coach may have a quick hook, but he's not exactly stubborn. A new series marked a new opportunity for Rivers and McLemore, and on Friday, the backup point guard shined. Rivers could make a significant impact against LeBron James and the Lakers.
Rivers scored 10 points in 16 minutes in a 104-92 Game 1 victory, finishing the night a plus-11 in 16 minutes. And there's little mystery as to why Rivers found success. The Duke product struggled against Oklahoma City's dynamic three-guard lineup, failing to create any meaningful separation off the bounce. Rivers then settled for contested jumpers and out-of-control drives, making D'Antoni's decision to trim the lineup an easy one. Rivers isn't having the same problem against the Lakers.
The former lottery pick found himself in a number of advantageous situations on Friday night as he torched Los Angeles' bench. Rivers hit a three over a sagging Dwight Howard, and he blew past Rajon Rondo for a layup. The Thunder play a collection of long and flexible defenders, often mirroring the Rockets when Steven Adams sat. The Lakers don't follow the same blueprint. Both Howard and JaVale McGee can be beat on an island. Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso don't exactly form a dynamic defensive backcourt. Houston's guards feasted on Friday, and the trend could continue throughout the second round.
It's likely Lakers head coach Frank Vogel opts to downsize on Sunday, allowing his team to keep up with the small-ball Rockets. But regardless of Vogel's schematic adjustments, Los Angeles still doesn't have the defensive personnel to hassle the Rockets as Oklahoma City did. Rivers struggled throughout the seven-game slog in round one. The second round could feature an impressive playoff stretch.
Rivers and the Rockets will look to take a 2–0 lead on Los Angeles on Sunday. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m. CT.