NBA WCF 2015: Houston Rockets still have some issues to take care of
The Houston Rockets were 0-3 down and facing elimination in the 2015 NBA Playoffs before game 4 against the Golden State Warriros. Facing the prospect of being swept, the Rockets responded once again with a comfortable 128-115 win. The team got off to a hot start scoring 45 points in the first quarter, tying the NBA Playoff record for most points in a single quarter.They shot 8 of 9 from beyond the arc during the first 12 minutes and never let go of the lead.
Although the Warriors cut the lead to six at one point in the fourth quarter, Houston had a mini-run to extend the lead back to an unassailable double digit margin. This current team is not championship material and their record in the Western Conference Finals has been testament to that fact. Yes they are now 4-0 in elimination games but no team in 116 occasions has won a series when 0-3 down in NBA Playoff history. So what’s causing them to be in such a situation in the first place?
Here’s a couple of things they need to fix in order to stay alive in Western Conference Finals:
Improve help defense
Every game that the franchise has won in their 2015 Playoff run has been by outscoring their opponents, with absolutely no regard to defense.This might come as a surprise to some Rockets fans in particular, given that the team was sixth in defensive efficiency during the regular season and has stellar one-on-one defenders like Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer, while 3 time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard patrols the paint.
Despite putting Ariza and a pesky veteran Jason Terry on Stephen Curry, the league MVP is averaging 35.5 points, shooting 56.25% from the field and 54.5% from long range through four games. Ariza is a much better defender than everybody thinks of him, so you can expect one bad game – but three? No chance.
It’s Houston’s weak defense that has struggled to keep track of Curry when the ball is not in his hands. Too often, they lose sight of him when the Warriors get the offensive rebound and then before they know it, Curry drains a three. This is not only about Ariza or Terry, the entire team has struggled to put together a stable defense.
The Conference Finals are too big a stage for any team to give away uncontested layups or dunks. Against a team like Golden State, who were second in offensive efficiency during the regular season and are atop the table (offensive efficiency) for the ongoing post-season, the Rockets need to be more vigilant and aware of their opponent’s off-ball movement.
Consistent strong performance from role players
Rockets are playing against a team with one of the best benches, if not the best benche in the league. Golden State’s second unit (Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa, David Lee and Festus Ezeli) can extend leads that were already built by the starters or bring the team back within striking distance when the starters struggle to do the same. To counter their reserves, Houston’s role players like Ariza, Josh Smith, Terrence Jones must step up to help their leader James Harden.
In Game 4, these players began the game in spectacular fashion which allowed Harden to take over later and seal the game when the Warriors looked like they were going to make a run. Smith, in particular was fantastic – knocking down long range shots and doing a little bit of everything – but the question is whether these players can help Harden on a regular basis?
Despite his bright stats, Dwight Howard has not made much of an impact in the series, so that calls for even more production from Houston’s role players.