3 things the Rockets need to do to beat the Warriors
FILE - At left, in a Dec. 28, 2017, file photo, Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni reacts to a call during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston. At right, in a March 14, 2018, file photo, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Oakland, Calif. The series that everyone in the NBA apparently wanted to see is about to happen. (AP Photo/File)
The league-leading Houston Rockets have homecourt advantage against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. That means they have edge, although historically, they don't.
In the two previous years that the Rockets went up against the Warriors, Houston has lost both of those: The conference finals in 2015, and a first round loss the season after. Both times, the Warriors won four games to one.
As the top seed in the entire league, what must the Rockets do on the court to clear a path to the NBA Finals? Here are three things they'll need to accomplish to make it happen:
1. Lean on their two-way threats
No matter the team, it's no secret that defense will always be key. This is especially so against the high-octane Warriors. The challenge is to prevent their guns from firing as much as possible.
The Rockets were second behind the Warriors in Defensive Rating this season at 102.1 (points allowed per 100 possessions). That's a big leap up from their old "just outscore them" mentality.
Guys like Playoffs standout Clint Capela, versatile forwards like PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, and veteran Trevor Ariza will need to give their all to stop the Hamptons' Five of the Warriors. And conversely, if the Warriors' defense slips, they should be able to give them a dose of their own medicine.
2. Limit the Warriors to 108 points or lower
The Warriors are 58 and 24 this season. In the 21 games that they lost, they were held down to 108 points or below (season-low was 75 against the Spurs on March 19). Not bad for the Rockets, as they are seventh in the league in terms of raw points per game, surrendering an average of 104 per game. Fittingly, the last time the Rockets played the Warriors, Houston prevailed, 116-108.
If the Rockets are able to "limit", not necessarily stop, the offense of the Warriors and make them bleed for every possession, they'll have a great chance. Now, how do they do that? The intangibles. Play tough every possession. Play physical to the point that there is always "resistance" on Golden State possessions. The more bumping, the more grinding of every play, the "harder" it is for the offense to score.
3. Embrace iso-ball...but only to a certain point
In the regular season, the Houston Rockets ran an isolation play 14.5 percent of the time, 4.0 percent more than any other team. They've stayed true to that concept, in the postseason, running it 14.1 percent of the time, with only their round one opponents, the Minnesota Timberwolves, running it more (18.0 percent).
The Rockets can afford to this because they have two terrific isolation-capable players leading their attack in James Harden and Chris Paul. However, in the Playoffs, they're only scoring 40.9 percent of the time, down from 47.7 percent in the regular season.
This in sharp contrast to two other teams in the postseason, the Rockets' opponents the Warriors, and in the East, the Boston Celtics. With those two teams, there's always ball movement, and opting for better shots. The Celtics do it because they don't have a clear superstar, with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward sidelined. On the other hand, the Warriors embrace this still, even though they're bannered by four All-Stars.
While Mike D'Antoni shouldn't junk his system right before the Conference Finals, some extra ball movement would do wonders for the Rockets, and might even be necessary against the swarming Golden State defense. They can still run iso's, especially if they get mismatches, but it probably shouldn't be their bread and butter.
Team basketball is the best brand of basketball. Never believe in a man doing it all alone. Michael Jordan gets most of the credit, where in fact he owes it all to his teammates. Kobe at first thought he could do it alone, but he was proven otherwise. IF the Rockets can execute when it matters the most, "may tulog" ang Golden State.
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