Heading into Game Four of their series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets seemed to be headed for an early first-round playoff exit.
The Rockets trailed 3-0 in their best of seven series, facing the No.1 seed in the Western Conference. The Rockets, now, have a legitimate chance to reach the second round. They won Games Four and Five, and are set to return home for Game Six.
One of the biggest differences in Houston’s two victories was the absence of Jeremy Lin. The point guard suffered a chest contusion in Game Two at halftime. He came back in the following contest, by the injury has forced him to sit in the last two games.
With Lin in the lineup, the Rockets couldn’t beat the Thunder. Without him, Houston has won two straight over Oklahoma City.
Are the Rockets better without Lin?
It’s hard to overlook how the Rockets have performed with Lin on the bench.
In Lin’s place, Francisco Garcia has started at point guard. After playing limited minutes with the Sacramento Kings and behind Lin, Garcia has performed admirably, averaging 13.5 points and 3.5 assists per game. Before he got hurt, Lin failed to score double digits or register more than four rebounds or assists in any of his playoff games.
James Harden thrived without Lin, putting up his best postseason numbers in Game Five. He scored 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting in the 107-100 win.
Despite the Rockets recent success, though, it might be hard to conclude that the club is better off without Lin. There isn’t much of a sample size from which to draw. Lin was injury-free in the regular season and these past two games are the only ones that he’s missed in his first year with Houston.
Lin has sat out recently, but more importantly, so has Russell Westbrook. The Oklahoma City point guard went down in Game Two with a torn meniscus and has been ruled out for the playoffs. Houston has taken advantage, forcing players other than Kevin Durant to take big shots.
Westbrook has been the Thunder’s second-best player all season long. Increased minutes from Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher have played a major role in the team's’decreased production.
There’s a chance the Rockets are a better team without Lin. However, the injury to Westbrook appears to have played a larger role in complexion of this series.