“To me, Golden State has all the pressure. They have to come in here and win tomorrow night.” Mike D’antoni is trying to speak a Houston win into existence and I don’t blame him. It will be tough to beat arguably the best team of all time on their home court, but by adjusting game plans, they can pull it out.
What they did well in their lone win was helping on Kevin Durant as soon as he put the ball on the ground and decided to attack the rim. Ultimately, the Rockets can’t switch mismatches onto Kevin Durant or Steph Curry. Durantula will simply rise up even if tightly guarded by a smaller defender and Curry will shake and bake (and then shimmy) against a bulkier defender, stepping back for a three.
In this Western Conference Finals, Durant shoots 46.9% with a defender tight on him and 73.7% when he is wide open. You’re not going to stop Durant but contesting his shots will at least stagnate him. If the Rockets can sufficiently rotate on help-side I can see them stealing another game.
Curry’s dazzling second-half barrage led to his famed shimmy and a scream by Riley Curry befitted by a bunch of bandwagoners cherishing the moment in a quaking Oracle Arena. After scoring just 34 points in two games, he upped the ante with 35 in a blowout win that showed the Rockets true colors as a one dimensional team.
Steph Curry wilts under the pressure when he is pressured with the ball and denied the ball. Bringing a level of physicality will tire the injury-prone superstar out. The Rockets did this tremendously in game 2 and you saw Dellevedova do it when the Cavaliers come back from a 3-1 lead in the 2016 Finals.
D’antoni and the Rockets have have completely embraced isolation basketball, “We do it well, we win. We don’t, we lose. But they’re not stopping it.” Altogether, Houston is second to last in passes completed and 11th in assists per game in the playoffs.
For a team known to utilize D’antoni’s 7 second offense, James Harden’s average time of possession in the playoffs is actually 8.5. Which is comparable to LBJ’s 9.1, who has much less of a supporting cast around him. Moreover, his seconds per touch is 6.85, which is higher than his 6.34 seconds per touch in the regular season. Harden needs to trust that his teammates will find him later in the possession.
‘The Beard’ has manifested into the exaggerated version of himself, producing 3.2 points in the mid-range in the playoffs while scoring 4.6 points in the same area during the regular season. Everyone knows Harden and the Rockets have an animosity toward long two’s but he still needs to utilize the shot in case the Warriors run him off the three-point line again.
The mid-range game has decreased yearly for Harden, from 10.8 to 9.3 to 5.5 each regular season. This is a driving reason he struggles in the postseason. The Rockets should focus on getting James Harden jump shots in the mid-range and close to the baskets first and foremost.
Comparably, Harden has gotten to the line less. He needs the aggression he displays during the regular season. While he may not receive the calls he gets in the regular season, Harden needs to attack the rim. He has shot just 7.8 free throws per game in the playoffs compared to 10.1 in the regular season. While his aggressiveness has waned, his true shooting percentage has bottomed out out, decreasing from 61.9 to 56.7.
Harden is taking the air out of the ball, dribbling it 6.35 times per touch, the most for any player who played over 5 games. With all this said, he is 13th in points per touch. He is not converting on the opportunities he is creating by playing hero ball. In addition, Harden’s points off assists numbers has fallen in the playoffs, scoring only 18.3% off an assist versus the 15.8% he posted during the regular season. His Assist percentage in the playoffs is 36.3, while in the regular season it was 44.9. It’s a game of hot potato and the James Harden is the loser if he holds the ball for too long.
Harden’s shots come 54.6% of the time off of 7+ dribbles, often toying with the ball only to shoot a contested three. Realistically, he should be taking one dribble and pulling up for a shot. He shoots 47.4% from the field and 43% from the field when he takes one dribble versus 45.3% and 37.3% when he takes 7 or more dribbles. D’antoni should utilize a faster pace offense and get Harden to shoot the ball without allowing Golden State’s defense to recover.
As a secondary ball-handler, The Beard needs to get the ball moving and get guys going. Their bench only scored 27 points last game. In game 2, the bench contributed 38 points with role players like Eric Gordon catching fire. Harden made just 15 of 38 shots that game but the “other 4” Ariza, Tucker, Capela, and Gordon shot 24 for 36. In game 3, the other 4 shot 14 for 33 and Harden and Paul combined for a meager 12 for 32. Harden and Paul’s first priority is to get the role players cooking.
Time and time again, Harden has proven to be the judge, jury, and executioner of Houston’s fate. The Rockets were 21-4 when Harden dished out 10 or more assists and 38-19 when he dished out less than 10 assists. They were 32-7 when he shot 20 or fewer shots in the game. He should be selective when taking certain shots.
D’antoni can’t just speak a win into existence, he has to make the right adjustments for Houston to come out of Oracle Arena victorious.
More ball movement, exaggerated help-side, and physical play is the recipe to a Rockets victory in game 4.
In reality, all the pressure is on the Rockets to stop the bleeding and even the series.