Russell Westbrook set to play when Rockets-Thunder series resumes, reportedly looks ‘as explosive as ever’

Before the Milwaukee Bucks initiated what became a league-wide boycott on Wednesday, the Houston Rockets were a few hours from taking the court for Game 5 of their first-round series against the Thunder. Russell Westbrook, who has been sidelined since Aug. 11 with a strained quad, was set to make his Rockets postseason debut in that game, per Kelly Iko of The Athletic. 

After participating in a 5-on-5 scrimmage on Thursday and, per ESPN, looking “as explosive as ever,” multiple reports indicate that Westbrook’s track hasn’t changed and he will indeed play in Game 5 when the series resumes. When will that be? The league is yet to make an announcement, but the belief is Saturday.

The Rockets will need Westbrook to hit the ground running. After racing out to a 2-0 series lead, they suddenly find themselves in a 2-2 fight against a dangerous Thunder team. 

The Rockets have collectively supported James Harden in Westbrook’s absence. Eric Gordon is averaging just under 20 points per game for the series, mostly courtesy of attacking the basket with welcomed aggression. Jeff Green has been huge, shooting 48 percent from deep. Danuel House, P.J. Tucker, Robert Covington and Ben McLemore have combined to shoot 41 percent from deep (37-for-90). 

Houston is certainly capable of beating OKC without Westbrook, but that’s obviously no given, and with the Lakers likely waiting in the second round should they make it that far, a full arsenal will be required. When the postseason began, the Rockets were perhaps the most intriguing team as everyone wanted to see how this full-time small-ball experiment would work in the playoffs. To get a true gauge of that, Westbrook has to be attacking the gaps and space created by the disproportionate attention paid to Harden. 

But first things first: Westbrook has to get on the court and back into a rhythm as he hasn’t played in a game since Aug. 11. And again, there isn’t a whole lot of time for that. Over 198 series through the 2017 playoffs, teams that won Game 5 in a 2-2 series went on to win the series over 82 percent of the time. Over the last two postseasons, teams that won Game 5 in a 2-2 series have won the series seven out of 10 times. 

Ironically, Houston is one of the three that skewed that number, losing the 2018 Western Conference finals to the Warriors after taking a 3-2 series lead with a win in Game 5. 

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