Joel Blank: Rockets need to pick up the pace, tweak the lineup
When the Rockets arrived in Oakland to prepare for Game 3, I’m sure they looked in their rear view mirror and hoped that Game 1 was a thing of the past. Of course, Game 2 had all Rockets fans breathing easy again and thinking their team was primed to take back control of the series. Along comes a clunker in Game 3 and now Red Nation has fans once again on the ledge thinking that their season could be coming to an end.
Regardless of what you want to call it and how many people were quick to defend it, Iso ball works best when you play fast—and the isolation ball handler is the facilitator/scorer. Way too many times, the shot clock went below five seconds on a given posession and just as in the series opener, the Rockets were forced to have the same guy who was isolating also try and get a shot off before the shot clock expired. The Rockets better sit down and pay careful attention to the game film and prepare for a fast-paced, pedal down, all-out sprint to the finish if they have hopes of winning Game 4, especially in the hostile environment of the Oracle arena.
In case some people haven't noticed, the Golden State Warriors have four All Stars in their starting lineup, three of which are capable of going off for 30 points a game at any time and the fourth capable of a triple double every night. In order for Houston to be able to match the firepower of the Warriors they have got to get contributions from Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, and Clint Capela. Of course we are not expecting any of those secondary players to go off for 30 points or more, although Gordon is capable. What is expected from at least 2 of those players on any given night is double digit scoring and filling up a few other stat columns in the box score. If the Rockets have any hopes of competing with the Warriors, they need help from their supporting cast, play at a pace that allows them to get out on the fast break and in transition, and get the reserves involved.
One of the keys to winning in the NBA is getting odd numbered advantages in your favor and capitalizing on them. Transition opportunities like 2 on 1 and 3 on 2 fast breaks, as well as 4 on 3 and 5 on 4 secondary breaks all lead to easy offense and lots of open shots. In creating these situations, you are also getting your secondary players in a rhythm, touching the ball, and easy baskets which builds confidence as well as contributions to the overall production of the team.
When the Rockets play as slow as they did in Game 1 and again in Game 3, it does the exact opposite. It does not allow the supporting cast to get involved offensively, which not only leads to those players being less productive, but it also carries over to the defensive end of the floor where the same players will be less likely to fully engage and give the extra effort this team so sorely needs.
The Warriors outscored the Rockets 23-10 on the break and 56-40 in the paint in game 3. On top of that, the Rockets bench was viewed as an advantage over Golden State in the series with deeper, more talented reserves, yet ther Warriors outscored Houston's reserves by 2 in Game 3. That simply cannot happen again if the Rockets expect to win another game, let alone this series. Especially when all five Golden State starters were in double figures as compared to only three of the five Rockets who opened the game. Houston had only one bench player score 10 or more and that was Eric Gordon, who shot a miserble 4 of 13 from the floor. The bench has to be better, plain and simple and the supporting cast cannot be on the missing persons report for Game 4 if Houston has plans of making this a long series.
At this point in the series, the adjustments made by the Rockets coaching staff can be summed up best by saying little risk and little reward. After losing Game 3 by 41 points it may be time for desperate measures. By this I mean it may be time to get as much offense as possible in the starting lineup and that would mean sending Clint Capella to the bench.
I realize that Clint has been a valuable cog in the Rockets defense all season, but let's face it, Houston's problems are not on the defensive end as much as they are trying to jump start their stagnant and stalling offense from possession to possession. Inserting Gordon in to the starting lineup and going small may not match the Warriors' starters point for point, but it could help the team get off to a better start and play at a faster tempo.
With the team only shooting 32% from behind the arc, and Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker each only contributing 6 points, Gordon in the starting lineup could go a long way to improving the 3-point shooting and the overall offensive production of the team. Of course Gordon will have to shoot better and be more consistent, but I think that getting him in a rhythm and in the flow of the game earlier may do just that. Whether the coaching staff decides to go small or not, let's hope they lock themselves in a film room and make some adjustments that will help this team pick up the pace and play at a speed that gives them a better chance to win. If they don't, its time to grab the tackle box and head for the beach because the Rockets will be fishing before you know it.