Rockets look to fix first-quarter struggles

OKLAHOMA CITY -- What troubles the Houston Rockets through three games of their best-of-seven series against the Oklahoma City Thunder is how they have started.

Another poor effort on Friday night led to a 14-point hole, which forced the Rockets to play catch-up. Despite taking a late third-quarter lead and having multiple chances to take the lead late in the fourth, the rough start resulted in a Rockets loss. The series is now 2-1 in favor of the Rockets, but there's an understanding that things need to be fixed.

"We got to come out desperate, that's all that is," James Harden said before Saturday's practice. "Come out desperate, come out on the defensive end with a sense of urgency, and offensively just do what we do, get our shots, get to the rim and be unselfish."

Asked if it's hard to do that, Harden was direct: "No, it's the playoffs. It has to be done."

The Rockets' net efficiency is minus-26.7 in the first quarter, and it improves to a whopping plus-40.2 in the fourth.

Houston is shooting 46 percent from the floor in the first quarter and continues to struggle on 3s, at 26 percent (6-for-23). In the postseason, Oklahoma City is shooting an NBA-best 55 percent in the opening quarter, when it has outscored Houston by 20 in this series.

In Game 3, Houston allowed 34 points in the first quarter and lost the game 115-113. But Houston overcame a slow start in Game 2 at home, allowing 35 points but later taking advantage of Russell Westbrook's fourth-quarter meltdown to win 115-111.

"Our starts come from us turning the ball over early," Trevor Ariza said. "When you turn the ball over, they get fast-break points -- that's with anybody. It gets the other team going; they get a lot of easy baskets, and the basket becomes bigger. Defensively you become more aggressive; that's the biggest part."

In the past two games, the Rockets have committed 14 turnovers in the opening quarter. The Rockets have yet to score any points on the fast break in the opening quarter while the Thunder have produced 14 fast-break points.

"When you turn the ball over, you can't set your defense," Ariza said. "They're going to get open looks, and you're on the scramble and you're on the defense all the time."

If the Rockets are to take control of this series by winning Game 4 on Sunday, Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said his team must be attentive to details, "especially in the first quarter. The stats and your eyes will tell you we're not getting off to a good start."

D'Antoni would like the Rockets to pick up the pace offensively, but part of the issue is Andre Roberson's coverage on Harden. Roberson slows Harden down, and when the Rockets can't set effective screens for him, it results in turnovers and rushed shots.

"We need to up the pace," D'Antoni said. "Our pace was slow, and as the games goes on we pick it up and we're a much better team. We'll never be a speed demon team, but at the same time we can get more of an up-tempo, rhythm-type pace."