Houston’s Defense Remains the Most Important Factor in the WCF

Credit:

Klay Thompson. Photo credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Highlights

  • Houston’s Game 2 offensive performance was impressive: The Rockets were incredibly efficient.
  • What shouldn’t be overlooked is how well Houston also played on defense.
  • Those two outcomes are very much connected. The fact that Houston’s strong defensive players were efficient on the offensive end allowed them to stay on the court, and they disrupted Golden State’s offense.

A lot of people will look at Houston’s offensive performance in Game 2 as the reason James Harden and co. won. And it was impressive, no doubt: The Rockets scored at a rate of 129.7 points per 100 possessions and posted a 62.8% effective field goal mark. Those are both in the 93rd-plus percentile of all games this season. The Rockets were very much themselves in this one, playing Moreyball exactly as it was envisioned.

They hit eight corner-3s — the most efficient shot in basketball — but, more importantly, they took 12 of them. Twelve! It’s unlikely a smart team like Golden State will allow that to happen again, but it’s encouraging for Rockets backers nonetheless. I saw a lot of people comment that Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker won’t shoot like that again — but I bet you they will if the Warriors leave them wide open for corner-3s. Even Stuckey could make those.

 

But I buried the lede here. The real story in Game 2, and the story that is most important for this series and ultimately the 2018 title, is Houston’s defense. Again, it’s not even really about percentages here; rather, look at the shots they forced. Sure, Klay Thompson will likely shoot better than the 27.3% from the field he posted in Game 2, but his shot quality was much worse in that game than in the series opener. In Game 1, Klay had 18 total shots, and a ridiculous 15 of them were 3-pointers. In Game 2, he had 11 shots and four 3-pointers. I don’t know what the exact correlation between Klay getting up 3s and the Warriors winning is, but I would guess there’s a notable relationship there. When they’re rolling, Stephen Curry is bending offenses with his gravity, and Klay Thompson — one of the best shooters of all time — is somehow getting open catch-and-shoot opportunities.

There’s also a correlation between the Rockets offense discussed above and Klay’s efficiency (and thus the Warriors’ efficiency). When the Rockets offense is doing what it’s supposed to, Tucker, Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute can remain on the floor. And that means they can use their length on the wing to disrupt the Warriors’ shooters. This is the beauty of basketball: Everything is connected. It’s not as simple as Klay shooting better or the Rockets regressing on offense. All of these things are interconnected, and, at least for one game, Houston found an equation that worked.

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