Rock­ets bet­ter at de­fend­ing them­selves than War­riors

Hous­ton dis­putes idea iso­la­tion plays won’t work on Golden State af­ter Game 1 loss.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Dan Woike dan.woike@la­times.com Twit­ter: @DanWoikeS­ports

HOUS­TON — The makeshift tele­vi­sion stu­dio perched above one of the four cor­ners of the Toy­ota Cen­ter is where bas­ket­ball con­ver­sa­tions are driven, with Ernie John­son host­ing a TNT show flanked by Shaquille O’Neal to his right and Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley to his left.

Af­ter 48 min­utes dur­ing which the Golden State War­riors de­feated the Hous­ton Rock­ets 119-106 in the West­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals opener Mon­day night, the guys on set made up their mind.

“I don’t feel good about this series right now,” said Barkley, a for­mer Rocket.

Smith, an­other for­mer Rocket, ques­tioned the vi­a­bil­ity of the style of of­fense Hous­ton is play­ing — iso­la­tion-heavy with­out a lot of move­ment.

“I said the Rock­ets can win the series, but they can’t win it the way they’ve been play­ing. They have to be un­com­fort­able and do some­thing dif­fer­ent,” Smith said. “Mike D’An­toni is a great of­fen­sive mind. He’s a great coach. He might say, ‘Now I might do some­thing dif­fer­ent.’ But you had to test the wa­ter to see if you could play that way and win.

“The wa­ter’s tested. It’s cold and it’s deep.”

Word made its way back to D’An­toni, be­cause the Rock­ets coach spent much of his Tues­day me­dia ses­sion de­fend­ing his of­fen­sive strat­egy.

“One thing we can shore up is be sure to keep all the noise out,” he said. “We talked about that. … We play the way we play. When we’ve played that way, we’re pretty good.”

When asked what he meant by noise, D’An­toni fo­cused on un­named crit­ics of the Rock­ets’ iso­la­tion play.

“Like, ‘Oh my gosh the [iso­la­tions], that’s all we do.’ No, it isn’t. That’s what we do best,” he said. “We scored like 60% of the time on that. Oh, re­ally? ‘Oh, they don’t pass, ev­ery­body’s stand­ing.’ Re­ally? Have you watched us for 82 games? That’s what we do. We are who we are, and we’re pretty good at it.”

The Rock­ets had one of the best of­fenses in the NBA this sea­son be­cause of how good Har­den and, to an ex­tent, Chris Paul are in sit­u­a­tions when they can go one on one against cer­tain de­fend­ers. It was clear to D’An­toni early this sea­son that would be the way his team plays.

“What is the best way we can play this team with this tal­ent? This is the best way,” D’An­toni said. “We won 65 games … so why wouldn’t we play this way? I think this is the best.

“James is one of the best, if not the best ever, one-onone player.”

Maybe, though the Rock­ets were too much of who they are dur­ing Game 1.

Har­den scored 41 points in the opener, but he held the ball for long stretches, re­peat­edly drib­bling it be­tween his legs while he was be­ing de­fended in mis­matches by the likes of for­mer UCLA big man Kevon

Looney. Some­times he’d score, some­times he wouldn’t, but it usu­ally took a long time with the other four Rock­ets stand­ing, watch­ing and wait­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Se­cond Spec­trum statis­tics, Har­den had 28 touches that lasted longer than 10 sec­onds. The War­riors, com­bined, had just 17 10-se­cond touches.

Rock­ets guard Eric Gor­don told the Un­de­feated af­ter the game he felt the Rock­ets needed to go in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

“We can’t iso­late as much against a good de­fen­sive team,” he said. “I don’t care who you are. We have some of the best iso­la­tion play­ers out there. But against a team like that, it’s go­ing to be too tough.”

Paul, con­fi­dent know­ing his team led the NBA in wins this sea­son, said the Rock­ets need to be res­o­lute.

“We are who we are,” Paul said to re­peated ques­tions about the Rock­ets’ one-onone play. “We got here, 65 wins, so at the end of the day, I think we’re go­ing to be who we are.”

Har­den said it’s fair to say the Rock­ets’ big­ger ad­just­ments in Game 2 on Wed­nes­day will be on the de­fen­sive end, where they need to be more dis­ci­plined in their switch­ing and quicker to re­cover in tran­si­tion.

The War­riors? Well, there’s not a lot of rea­son to do much dif­fer­ently. And they don’t ex­pect the Rock­ets to look like a dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent team, no mat­ter what peo­ple are say­ing.

“It’s not like in the play­offs you can just change who you are. You’ve got to be who you are,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “You’ve got to play the way you play. But you’ve got to do that bet­ter. That’s what ev­ery­one does.”

So don’t ex­pect the Rock­ets to dis­cover pace and pass­ing in fa­vor of de­lib­er­ate drib­bling in Game 2.

“We can run a thou­sand plays. At the end of the day, if James looks up, and there’s Looney right in front of him be­cause they switched ev­ery­thing, well, we have to take ad­van­tage of that,” D’An­toni said. “If we can’t, then they’ve im­posed their will bet­ter than we’ve im­posed ours.”

‘We are who we are. We got here, 65 wins, so at the end of the day, I think we’re go­ing to be who we are.’ — CHRIS PAUL

Eric Chris­tian Smith AP

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