The Houston Rockets trail the Oklahoma City Thunder 2-0 in their first-round NBA playoff series, but the door is suddenly open for a comeback due to Russell Westbrook's injury. If point guard Jeremy Lin doesn't suit up for the Rockets in Game 3, though, Houston doesn't stand a chance moving forward.
According to ESPN.com, Lin is a game-time decision for Game 3 in Houston due to a bruised chest muscle. Lin suffered the injury in the first half of Game 2 when he collided with Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha. Lin did not return to the contest, and the Rockets ultimately lost a close 105-102 decision.
Westbrook was also injured during that game when Rockets guard Patrick Beverly went for a steal. While Westbrook stayed in the game and ultimately finished it, his injury was far more severe than originally thought. According to Sean Highkin of USA Today, Westbrook will miss the remainder of the postseason after undergoing surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus.
With so much uncertainty at the point guard position for OKC, Houston needs to take advantage. Lin had his hands full with Westbrook on both ends of the floor, but he now has a far more advantageous matchup against second-year man Reggie Jackson. Although Jackson is an extremely talented player, he is nowhere near Westbrook.
Lin really struggled in the first game-and-a-half of this series, but he was excellent down the stretch during the regular season. He averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game, and he should be able to get going against Jackson. If Lin is able to go in Game 3, then the Rockets will have a huge advantage in the backcourt with Lin and James Harden against Jackson and Sefolosha.
That doesn't guarantee a Game 3 win, but if Lin doesn't play, then the Jackson vs. Beverly matchup will be a virtual wash. At that point it becomes about the rest of the players on the floor, and OKC has the advantage with guys like Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin. Westbrook is a big-time player for the Thunder, but they're far from a one-trick pony.
There is no disputing the fact that Harden is Houston's star; however, Lin is the one who sets the pace of the Rockets' high-octane offense. Beverly has filled in admirably at certain points over the course of the year, but he is not capable of being as dynamic offensively as Lin can be. Lin is inconsistent, but when he is on he is among the best offensive point guards in the game.
Westbrook is a lock-down defender on the perimeter and gave Lin fits in Game 1 especially, but Jackson is a far cry from Westbrook. Lin will have more room to operate and get to the basket on the offensive end against a guy like Jackson, and that automatically makes the Rockets a much bigger threat.
If the Rockets are able to steal Game 3, this suddenly becomes a much different series. They will have all the momentum after picking up a victory, and the Thunder will likely be downtrodden knowing that Westbrook isn't coming back. Game 3 may not technically be a must-win game for the Rockets since a loss wouldn't eliminate them, but it is the closest thing to a must-win without actually being one.
Going down 3-0 to the Thunder would essentially crush Houston's hope of a comeback, so it is incredibly important for Lin to play in this game. If he can't go then there is nothing that can be done about it, but if it's all about pain tolerance, then he needs to play. There is now a matchup on the floor that the Rockets can exploit, and Lin needs to be the guy who does it.
Without Lin, the Rockets' chances of winning Game 3 aren't good. Durant seems motivated to prove that he can win without Westbrook, so he is likely to have a huge game. Lin's advantage over Jackson could quell that, but a Game 3 without Lin spells doom for Houston.
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