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Breakdown: Rockets Remembered Klay Thompson Is Really Good

After scoring 28 points in game one, Thompson was held to eight in game two

May 18, 2018 - 9:42 am

By Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane)

The Rockets defense in game one of the Western Conference Finals can pretty much be summed up by this exchange Klay Thompson had with a reporter during his postgame press conference Monday night:

Question: “Klay, can you remember a game where you were that open from three that many times? It seemed like you had some looks without anyone on you?”

Thompson: “I mean, there have been many, but in the playoffs, not too many.”

He wasn’t kidding. The Rockets defended one of the best 3-point shooters in the history of the NBA like an afterthought.

Thompson made six 3-pointers during game one and finished with 28 points, but he should’ve had an even bigger night. The Warriors guard hoisted 15 shots from behind the 3-point line, and on only three was there a Rockets defender within four feet of him. Seven of his 3-point tries were classified as wide open, without a defender within six feet, he made three of them, while five came with a defender between four and six feet away. Somehow, Thompson missed all five. If the Rockets were going to have a chance to win game two they’d have to do a better job against him, fortunately they did.

"Some of it was just breakdown, and we know we've got to be better," Chris Paul said. "We've got to communicate better. Off some of those missed layups, you get caught in transition. And Klay would pop open and such and such."

Communication is a big reason that Rockets finished with a top 10 defense during the regular season, and on this early game two possession you can see the improvement from 48 hours before.

The Warriors use an Andre Iguodala screen to run Thompson from one side to the other. P.J. Tucker is able to switch on to him after he goes through it, but with Thompson, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green all clustered together, Tucker, Trevor Ariza, and Chris Paul are able to successfully maneuver through the mess, forcing Kevin Durant to take a contested jumper.

The Warriors still score on this play, but that’s due to the brilliance of Curry. The play was designed for Thompson. Ariza is not only able to find Thompson amidst the clutter, he’s able to avoid getting screened. The Rockets still gave up two points, but that's better than three.

It’s not like the Rockets shut Thompson down completely, that’s impossible, but they made things tough on him, something they couldn’t do in the series opener.

The Rockets stayed connected to him, even in transition.

Thompson finished game two with just eight points on 11 field goal attempts, just four came from behind the 3-point arc. After launching 12 threes that were either open or wide open in game one, the Rockets didn’t allow him a single open look in game two. He couldn’t find any space with which to work.

"We just did everything a little harder," Paul said after game two. "Got out to the shooters. Our switches were a lot cleaner. Game 1, Klay got off 15 threes. He only got off four tonight. So that's a little better."

It's hard to imagine the Rockets defense against Klay Thompson being much better that what it was in game two, but it can't revert back to game one. If it does, the Rockets have no chance to win the Western Conference Finals. If they can simply maintain Wednesday night's effort, the Rockets have a chance to knock off the defending champions.