Photo by Kyle Terada/USA Today

5 Keys For A Rockets Series Win

If the Rockets want to beat Golden State they must follow this recipe

May 14, 2018 - 10:00 am
Categories: 

By Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane)

At last the series we have been waiting months and months and months for is finally here. Tonight the Rockets and Warriors will start the Western Conference Finals at Toyota Center, and while very few think the Rockets will win the series, it doesn't mean they can't, but in order to take down the defending champs they will have to do the following:

1. Limit turnovers

The Warriors were top 10 in points off turnovers this season and led the NBA in fastbreak points. No team is better at turning your mistakes into easy points, and how the Warriors get you is that they use transition points to start big runs that can flip games, especially at Oracle Arena where they feed off the crowd. It isn't necessarily 16-2 run that kills opponents, it's the quick seven straight points over a 40 seconds that can change a game. "They're number one in transiton," James Harden said Friday. "Whether it's the 3-ball or getting layups, so, you don't turn the basketball over you make them try to play in the halfcourt as much as possible to give yourself a chance, but if you're turning the basketball over or taking bad shots they're getting their swag up and things like that." 

In Harden's first four seasons with the Rockets, they were bottom five in the NBA in turnover rate. Last season they moved out of the bottom five and into the bottom 10, but this season they were tied for 10th, giving the ball up on 13.8 percent of their possessions. Even more encouraging is that in 10 playoff games that number has plummeted to 9.8 percent which is the lowest number since the Washington Wizards 9.6 turnover rate in 2007 when they were swept in the first round.

2. Get back on defense

Because they want guys in the corners and because Harden looks to get to the rim so often, they Rockets floor balance is always a little messed up leaving them vulnerable to the fastbreak. Against the Warriors, this can be a back breaker, especially on those possessions that end with Harden missing a shot in the restricted area without a foul being called. With two players in the corners and Harden under the basket, you really only have one guy (if Clint Capela is on the floor) in position to get back on defense. It will be crucial that the players positioned in each corner sprint back and get matched up with someone, preferably Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, as quick as possible.

3. Eric Gordon has to show up

The Warriors have three guys, Curry, Thompson, and Kevin Durant that can take over games at the offensive end. The Rockets have James Harden and Chris Paul. They need that third guy, and Gordon is the one capable of getting it done, but he must play better than he has during the first two rounds of the playoffs. Not only did Gordon shoot just 31 percent from behind the 3-point line against Minnesota and Utah, but he made just 38 percent of his shots from inside the arc. If Gordon plays well in a given game, the Rockets have room for error, but if he doesn't, the only way the Rockets can win is if Harden and Paul play at an elite level every night, which is a lot to ask.

4. Ball Movement

"They have great defenders, individual defenders, so we just gotta play as fast as we can and try to get easier baskets. We can't be a big-time isolation team or else those shots are going to be touger."- Eric Gordon

In Harden and Paul, the Rockets have two of the best isolation players in the NBA who are experts at picking out a favorable matchup and attacking it. Problem is, the Warriors don't really give you those matchups, especially when they play Draymond Green at center. Even if you isolate against Curry they still have Green and Durant to protect the rim. I think you'll see the Rockets try and push tempo more in this series than in the previous two to get easy shots early in the shot clock, but on possessions where the Warriors are able to setup their defense, the Rockets are going to have to work harder for good shots, and moving the ball will be key in that. 

5. Harden must defend

I already wrote about this last week, but just to reiterate, the Warriors are going to attack Harden as much as possible, if he's not locked in defensively, the Rockets can't win.