What the Mike D’Antoni-led Houston Rockets have done by launching nearly 50 3-pointers per game has flipped the mathematics into their favor with such volatility that they can make or break a game in just a handful of possessions.
Houston shooting the way they did in Games 1 and 4 isn’t surprising anyone. Unless you’re a basketball fan from the 1990s who has been in a coma for the last 25 years, then welcome to the new NBA, where dominant big men are nearly extinct and chicks dig the long ball.
Four games is a small sample size during the regular season, but a few patterns have appeared in this series that should give the San Antonio Spurs a few benchmarks to focus on if they want a Western Conference Finals date with the Golden State Warriors.
BY THE NUMBERS
100 – The Rockets played the regular season at a pace of exactly 100.0, which is almost four possessions per game above league average, and good enough for third in the NBA. In the playoffs, that pace has slowed to 97.7 possessions, but Houston is still +3 over league average.
As you can see on the chart, in both of Houston’s victories over San Antonio, the Rockets hit a pace of 102.4 and 98.9, eclipsing their playoff average and right around the area where Houston has the most success. During the regular season, when Houston played at a pace of 100.0 (their average) or lower, they were 29-17. In the playoffs, when the Rockets play at a pace of 97 or lower, they’re 2-3.
Slowing down the pace against a D’Antoni squad has always been the patented method of defeat, but so has maintaining them from hitting the century mark. The Rockets failed to scored 100 points in both playoff losses to San Antonio, and Houston’s win percentage when failing to hit triple digits is pretty poor. The Rockets are a mere 3-7, regular season and playoffs, when scoring 100 or fewer points. San Antonio is responsible for four of those defeats.
This isn’t ground breaking information, but it does help track what kind of night the Rockets are having in terms of flow and output. If San Antonio can’t control the tempo and stay within their offense from the tip, they’re bound to get throttled.
.357 – For all the talk of how dangerous the Rockets are from beyond the arc, Houston was actually an average 3-point shooting team.
During the regular season, the Rockets shot 35.7 percent from beyond the arc, which was just a tenth of a percent lower than league average and only good enough for 15th in the NBA. In both regular season and playoff games where the Rockets shot at or below their average, they are 23-24. But that’s where the volume of 3-point attempts becomes killer.
Even at a 36 percent clip, if the Rockets take D’Antoni’s preferred 50 3-point attempts per game, Houston will end up with 54 points just on the long ball alone. And that’s not accounting for their dominance around the interior and ability to get to the free throw line.
This leads us to adjustments the Spurs should make to fare better in Game 5.
FOCUS AND ENERGY
Here’s the easiest adjustment. Even great teams fall flat and become unengaged during the playoffs, and the Spurs showed an extra gear in Games 2 and 3 that many questioned even existed.
While the Spurs managed to cut Houston’s lead down to two points in the third quarter on Sunday night, there was no way San Antonio could rectify giving up 13 fast break points in the first quarter.
The focus part of this equation also refers to not rushing into the offense and playing into Houston’s hand. Shots will fall at home, but if the Spurs aren’t sharing the ball and making Houston work on defense, then Game 5 will have disastrous results.
Talk about beating a dead horse.
Clamoring for Dewayne Dedmon to get more minutes seems futile, but here we are again. With Nene lost for the rest of the season, Clint Capela becomes Houston’s only serviceable, traditional big man. The Spurs put forth a lot of effort into stifling the Swiss center and preventing death by lobs in Game 4. That strategy paired with James Harden’s drive and kick ability gave the Rockets plenty of green lights from beyond the arc.
Dedmon may cause the offense to stall out, but why not let the athletic big get an early shot at Capela? Gasol and Aldridge have been adequate as rim protectors, and it’s not like we’re asking for Dedmon to log 30 minutes or start in a critical playoff game.
Let Dedmon focus on defending the lob. At the very least, let Dedmon soak up some fouls and employ the Hack-A-Capela on a career 43 percent free throw shooter.
If Pop can manage to trust Jonathon Simmons, why not the big man whom he compared to Bruce Bowen?
Here is what Manu Ginobili had to say after Sunday night:
“Game 5 is a Game 7. We had a great opportunity today to go back to San Antonio up 3-1 and in a better situation. Now it’s at 2-2…Game 7. And we really gotta be knowing that every possession is a game-winning possession.”
Here are Ginobili’s averages in Game 5’s since the 2014 NBA Playoffs: 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, .489 FG%
Time to empty everything that’s left in the tank.