The Rockets worked the entire season to best the Warriors; then they lost Game 1 at home

It’s the NBA Playoff series that everyone has been waiting for — the Houston Rockets vs. the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals in a battle of the #1 and #2 teams in the league.

By now, it’s no secret that the Rockets were constructed to battle (and beat) the Warriors. Not just that, Houston worked all season; secured the best record in the league and home court advantage throughout the playoffs; the latter specifically so they would have another leg up on the Warriors. At the end of the regular season, odds makers had the teams tied in terms of their chances of winning the NBA championship. Those odds have now changed, take a look here:

If Game 1 was any indication, then the Rockets still have some work to do. You might have read or heard the stat that the team that wins the first game of the series ultimately wins the series 79% of the time. That’s a compelling stat in itself, but doesn’t factor series where the away team wins against the home team (as Golden State did), nor does it take into consideration the Warriors composition. In other words, it’s a much steeper uphill battle for the Rockets now.

It’s not that the Rockets looked terrible, not at all. In fact, the game was a quality brand of basketball on both sides and from a fan’s point of view, it displayed the full skill level of NBA players.

What went wrong for the Rockets was that their defense wasn’t up to snuff. At this juncture of the postseason, every inch, every step in the wrong direction, and losing track of your assignment matters. Though the Rockets were able to keep up with the Golden State in terms of offensive firepower, it was clear they weren’t nearly as good recovering defensively and that’s how the Warriors pulled away.

“There (was) just too many times we had mental lapses.” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told “We either didn’t switch properly or we didn’t switch hard enough.

Defensive Lapses and Being Mentally Prepared 

The shots that the players hit and speed in which the game was played was entertaining for the fans, but that ultimately what undid the Rockets was missed shots they make against lesser teams. That’s because the Warriors play great team defense. The Rockets to came up short on several shots near the basket, and that basically made the difference in the game.

If James Harden or Gerald Green or Luc Mbah a Moute missed a chippy and spent even a half second being down about it, if the Warriors rebounded the ball, the “Hamptons 5” ran with it. The remaining Rockets were left scrambling and trying to make up for that half second on defense. With the looming threat of Kevin Durant, the constant movement of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry along with Draymond Green and Andre Iguodola making the right decisions on both sides, they got a lot of open shots.

That’s all to say that the Rockets team defense needs more fine-tuning and the team mentally active at all times. “Every time we missed a layup, which we missed a lot of layups, they ran out.” D’Antoni said. “If we want to beat them, we have to be mentally sharper… you can’t make mental mistakes.”

The Rockets are a great team and they were able to make mistakes against the likes of Minnesota and Utah, but with the offensive IQ and firepower the Warriors have, a miscue will cost you an open three. In at least three cases, Thompson was wide open, able to set his feet and take a rhythm dribble without anyone even close by.

In this series, speed kills. That’s especially true about the Rockets transition defense.

Leave a Reply