How the Rockets Can Fix Their Defense in Game 2

How the Rockets Can Fix Their Defense in Game 2 article feature image

Pictured: Warriors forward Andre Iguodala and Rockets guard Chris Paul. Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Highlights

  • The Warriors were absolutely ridiculous on offense in Game 1, shooting 87.5% at the rim and 48.4% on midrangers.
  • The Rockets need to improve their own offense on Wednesday, but not even that will matter if they don’t make an effort to contest as many Warriors shots as possible. 

In Game 1, the Rockets passed the ball just 226 times. They ranked dead last in passes per game during the regular season (253.8), which might be a bit surprising considering how elite their offense has been all season. Analysts will almost certainly argue about whether they should run fewer isolation sets, but 1) that’s who they are and 2) they’re damn good at who they are.

Per Mike Zavagno, who writes about the Cavs for, the Rockets scored 45 points on 33 isolation possessions, which is good for a stupid-efficient 1.36 points per play. That’s a better number than every team’s offensive efficiency in transition during the regular season. We can definitively say that the Rockets’ ISO scoring was not the reason they lost the game.

So what was the problem?

Well, one cop-out answer, although it’s true, is that the Warriors are just a nearly impossible team to beat because of their shooting talent. They went a ridiculous 87.5% at the rim (98th percentile of games this season, per Cleaning the Glass) and 48.4% on midrangers (80th percentile). They added 4.5 points per 100 possessions pushing on live rebounds, and honestly, they probably should’ve pushed even more: Houston finished the regular season ranked a miserable 22nd in transition defense.

The Rockets just can’t afford to give the Warriors easy looks at the basket, especially when Kevin Durant is going nuclear on contested midrange shots. The Warriors have a very fluid offense, and they have posted 145 plays so far in the playoffs with a cut that received the ball. The Raptors are second in the playoffs with 95. Golden State has more gravity than a black hole, and that gravity makes cutting backdoor easy and great offense. Harden was especially susceptible to those cuts in Game 1, and it’s hard for Clint Capela to cover everything, especially if he’s playing against a floor-spacer as well.

Houston has some ways to improve offensively — hitting more than 4-of-14 (28.6%) “open” 3-pointers is a start — but the most important thing is to force Golden State into a tough shot. On as many possessions as possible.

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