What! Houston Rockets Have Defense
After a Western Conference Finals game-three blowout by 41 points to the Golden Gate Warriors, the Houston Rockets rebounded last night with a 25-point fourth quarter erasing a 10-point deficit and holding the Warriors to 12 points – one of the team’s lowest scoring quarters in the playoffs this year – to win 95-92 tying the series at 2-2. Who knew the Rockets could mount such an other worldly defensive effort against the defending NBA champions?
Here’s the reality and the untold “secret”: the Rockets are more than just an offensive juggernaut. Their defensive rating went from 18th last season to sixth this season, which can be attributed in part to lead defensive assistant Jeff Bzedik AND back up point guard Chris Paul whom brought a defensive mindset with him when he came over from the Los Angeles Clippers.
In his fifth season with the Rockets, James Harden, the probable regular season Most Valuable Player, has neither had to carry the complete offensive load as Paul has provided much-needed help in addition to sixth Eric Gordon. The drawback to this team is the perception that a team led by Coach Mike D’Antoni was incapable of playing consistent defense to get over the hump to win a title.
D’Antoni is known as the architect of the offense that is in vogue in the NBA: uptempo, spread out offenses that rely on pick and rolls while playing smaller lineups comprising small forwards playing power forwards and power forwards playing centers, i.e. no traditional back to the basket center.
During the 2007 Western Conference finals D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” (to put up a shot) Phoenix Suns – might have made it to the NBA Championship Series but disgraced 13-year NBA referee Tim Donaghy whom bet on Phoenix playoff games that he officiated. It was determined that he deliberately miscalled individual games to control the point spread. Note: Ironically, it was the current opposing Coach Steve Kerr who was an advisor with the Suns and became the General Manager in 2007…
Fast forward to the fourth quarter of Game 4 last night, two teams whose offense are mirror images of each other. The difference is the Rockets’ defense. The Warriors were 3 of 18 including 2 of 13 from the arguably the best jump shooter of all time Steph Curry and the nearly indefensible Kevin Durant.
With their defense preventing what might have been a series shortening loss, the Rockets have new life in regaining their home court advantage with two of possibly 3 games to be played in Houston. Should the all important game seven be played, it will be at home. The adage that often is applied in football that offense puts butts in seats and defense win championships is apropos to this series. The team that holds their opponent below their average offensive output will be the Western Conference Champions.