Rockets Missing Easy Looks a Trend in Game 3

By Matthew Cardenas on May 21, 2018

Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals will not want to be discussed by either the Rockets or their fans. Stephen Curry finally had a resurgence and scored 26 of his 35 points in the second half, leading the Warriors to a 41-point blowout. The Rockets were unable to withstand the big third quarter from Curry and just seemed to be a step behind on both ends. The Warriors are already difficult to beat as it is, but it's near impossible when they're on their home floor and Curry explodes like he did.

There were a plethora of things the Rockets did not execute well. Chris Paul and James Harden combined to shoot a 12-32 from the field. Their usual gameplan of targeting Curry on the defensive end was ineffective. Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, and Trevor Ariza were unable to carry over their big Game 2's to Oakland. All of that added up to a disastrous night against the defending champions

If there is one area the Rockets can look at improving the most, it is the easy looks that were not converted. It may not have made much of a difference considering the team lost by 41, but easy looks against a great defensive team like the Warriors are hard to come by and you have to make them when you get them.

Paul does a good job of creating space against Looney with the crossover. However, even after creating the separation Paul is unable to convert on the midrange jumper, which is his bread and butter. Looney is somewhat able to recover and half-close out, but Paul mostly had an open look. 

Paul finds Clint Capela on the penetration and Capela quickly passes the ball back as Curry comes over to help, leaving Paul open under the basket. Paul goes for the layup and is unable to convert again. Even with the minimal contact from the larger Draymond Green, this should have been an easy two points for the Rockets. Notice how Capela also fails to capitalize on the easy tip-in opportunity.

It is evident the Rockets love attacking whatever big the Warriors have on the floor. Steve Kerr elected to insert rookie Jordan Bell after Looney got into foul trouble. Harden is able to blow by Bell with ease and fails to convert the wide-open layup. This should have been the easiest two points of the night for Harden, even with his off hand. The Warriors were able to run out after the rebound and finish with a mid-range jumper from Klay Thompson. Those little point swings really hurt, especially on the road.

Gordon is able to get in front of Looney for what seems to be an easy layup. Green shows but does not fully commit to the help. That should have resulted in an easy two points for Gordon and the Rockets. You can see Gordon complaining and looking for a whistle, but the layup should have been converted regardless.

Look, these little clips would not have made a difference in the outcome of the game. A 41 point loss is a 41 point loss. It was going to be an impossible feat to pull off the comeback once Curry got in a rhythm in the 3rd. The Rockets shot 11-25 in the paint in the first half. That creates opportunities for the Warriors to get out in transition, where they look to annihilate opponents.

The effort will simply need to be higher in Game 4 if the Rockets want this to become a best-of-3 series with two of those games in Houston. Harden and Paul cannot be as lackadaisical with the ball. Easy buckets need to be converted. This team knows going down 3-1 will likely result in their season ending without an NBA Finals appearance.

It should also be noted that no one truly knows the severity of Paul's Achilles injury. Paul and Houston's training staff said he is fine, but no one knows for certain. This might just be an injury he has to withstand for the duration of the playoffs.

It was one game. The Rockets can forget this night ever happened and move on to Game 4. Focus on the task at hand, which is splitting the games in Oracle. All of that is still possible, even with the 41-point beatdown.

Rockets 85, Warriors 126 - Out of Hand

By Forrest Walker on December 18, 2017

Good lord, that one got out of hand in a hurry. The Houston Rockets fell to the Golden State Warriors in game 3, extending the Warriors' home playoff win streak to a best-ever 16. On the other hand, the Rockets' 41-point loss is the biggest playoff loss in franchise history. Houston's main takeaway from this game should be to forget it ever happened and to burn all records of it. Then they have no choice but to somehow take game 4.

The Concern Behind Luc Mbah a Moute's Shoulder

By Matthew Cardenas on May 18, 2018
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Luc Mbah a Moute was one of the prized offseason acquisitions for the Rockets last summer. The fact that Daryl Morey and the Rockets were able to sign him for the veteran minimum is incredible. Many in the NBA feel his value is far beyond that when you look at players like Andre Roberson, who makes $10 million a year. Both players are known for the defensive abilities and the case could be made for Mbah a Moute having a more polished offensive game. His play has been a factor in the Rockets finishing the regular season with the 6th best defensive rating (106.1).

Mbah a Moute has dealt with a dislocated shoulder twice this season. The most recent occurred during the 81st game of the regular season against the Lakers after a high flying finish at the rim. A second dislocation would force him to miss the entirety of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Fortunately, he was not needed as the Rockets were able to eliminate the Minnesota Timberwolves in five games. He would make his return in the second round of the playoffs, with the Rockets eliminating the Utah Jazz in five games. His value for the Rockets was expected to be shown right now as they are facing off against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The ability of Mbah a Moute to guard multiple positions on the wing had many feeling the Rockets could knock off the defending champions.

If one thing is clear right now, it is that Mbah a Moute does not have full confidence in his shoulder. He has openly discussed that nervousness to attack at the rim as well. Mbah a Moute is going to defend and look to make life difficult for the Warriors top players. His contributions on the offensive end could be a difference maker in the outcome of this series, though. We have seen Mbah a Moute miss finishes at the rim throughout the Conference Finals that would have been different if he were at full health.

This is a basic PnR between Paul and Mbah a Moute that should have a resulted in an easy two points. Even with Shaun Livingston helping and looking to alter the shot, Mbah a Moute likely finishes the bucket if the shoulder was at full strength and he had the confidence.

Mbah a Moute gets past Draymond Green with the shot fake, resulting in Klay Thompson and David West both sliding over to contest. He is actually able to get a clean look at the end but is still unable to finish at the rim. Mbah a Moute usually has success driving on the baseline.

He would finish Game One 0-6 from the field and only played six minutes in Game 2. Gerald Green got the nod for more playing time as Mike D'Antoni is starting to realize Mbah a Moute's shoulder is not at 100 percent. Even with the defensive game there, it is hard to leave him on the court if he is a liability on the offensive end.

Luckily for the Rockets, Mbah a Moute's offense was not needed in Game 2. Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker and Trevor Ariza combined for 68 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists. The majority know that this offensive performance from all three will likely not be replicated at this high of a level, though.

It will be interesting to see what route D'Antoni takes for the remainder of the Western Conference Finals. Game 2 was played on Wednesday and Game 3 is not until Sunday. This could be a valuable time for Mbah a Moute to rest the shoulder and hopefully gain more confidence. If that is not the case, it is possible he ends up riding the bench while Green takes the minutes.

Rockets 127, Warriors 105 - Return to Form

By Forrest Walker on May 16, 2018

The Houston Rockets have evened up the series with the Golden State Warriors, 1-1. In a dominant performance from start to finish, the Rockets responded to the pressure and looked like the Houston team we've seen for six months. The ramshackle assortment of spare parts being dragged by James Harden transformed overnight into a sharp, hungry squad, while the Golden State Warriors melted into Kevin Durant and friends. In this game Houston finds not just a necessary respite from the onslaught of the Warriors, but a reason for hope and a blueprint for future success.

Rockets Must Fix Defensive Miscommunication Going Into Game 2

By Matthew Cardenas on May 15, 2018
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Game 1 of the highly-anticipated Rockets/Warriors has passed and the Warriors used monstrous nights from Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to steal homecourt advantage from the Rockets. James Harden was the only Rocket able to be in a rhythm during Game 1, finishing the night with 41 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds on 14-24 shooting. He was arguably the best player on the court Monday night with five other all-stars sharing the court.

The Rockets stuck to their isolation ball from Harden and Paul to initiate the offense. It does not matter what the TNT crew or others think of the style. This style led to 65 wins in the regular season and has them in the Western Conference Finals. Multiple boneheaded mistakes on the offensive end started to glare in crunch time. Luc Mbah a Moute had three misses at the rim as the shoulder issue could still be there. Eric Gordon had an easy bucket late in the second quarter, but fumbled the ball driving to the rim. Little mistakes like those become large when playing what many have labeled as the greatest team ever assembled.

Mistakes on the offensive end are something you expect to be fixed for Game 2. Mbah a Moute, PJ Tucker, Gerald Green and Trevor Ariza combined to shoot 5-22 in Game 1. One would hope that shooting night will not be replicated.

Attention needs to be on the defensive end right now for the Rockets. There were too many occasions where a Warrior would be wide open on the perimeter, particularly Klay Thompson. Leaving one of the greatest shooters of all time open is a recipe for disaster, especially with the rhythm he was in for Game 1.

Once Harden gets beat by Steph Curry, Paul anticipates the drive and comes over to help in order to prevent Curry from getting the layup. The mistake here is leaving Thompson wide open in the corner. Tucker attempts to go over to the corner but knows leaving Durant open is just as fatal. Paul could have stayed in the corner with Capela behind him and also anticipating Curry's drive.

On this play, Tucker is on Durant as Curry is pushing the pace. Tucker notices Curry coming and calls for a body to tag him. Gordon and Mbah a Moute are both near Kevon Looney for who knows what. Gordon and Mbah a Moute both point at Steph, but do not react quick enough to tag him. Tucker is forced to switch as Green tries to come over to close out on an open three for Durant.

A miscommunication here takes place between Harden and Paul. We can see Paul around the free throw line trying to be a safety. Once Nick Young sets the screen for Thompson, Harden takes too long to alert Paul. This is a mistake on both parties as Paul should have tagged a body sooner.

Another miscommunication here between Paul and Harden. After Young sets the screen, Paul correctly goes over the screen. Harden deciding to stay and trap Curry leaves Young open on the pop. Gordon recognizes it and wants to help, but knows leaving Thompson will be a mistake.

This was right after the Rockets were furious with the missed call on the backcourt violation. Tucker tells Capela to switch with him, but Capela reacts too late and Tucker is forced to come help on the cut from Draymond Green. Once again, Thompson is left open and you can tell Tucker is not afraid to show his dissatisfaction. An open three for Thompson is a layup.

Mistakes shown in the clips have to be fixed in Game 2. Defensive errors are what the Warriors feed on and they will exploit it every time. Sure, it can be difficult to always have a body on a team with a plethora of shooters and talent. Little mistakes are what will cost the Rockets a trip to the NBA Finals if they are not fixed, though.

Rockets 106, Warriors 119 - Annihilation

By Forrest Walker on May 14, 2018

This series isn't over. Even with the Houston Rockets falling to the Golden State Warriors in game one, there's a lot of basketball to be played in the Western Conference Finals, and it's important not to overreact to a single game. The Rockets may have lost, and with it lost the home court advantage they worked to hard to gain, but they will have a chance to respond in game two on Wednesday and try to sort out their issues. And, no pressure or anything, but the only thing riding on their next game is just the fate of the NBA. This series is a test, and the Rockets are teetering dangerously close to annihilation.

Ep. 78: Recapping UTA/HOU + HOU/GSW Preview

Salman Ali (@RedNationHoops), Forrest Walker (@DUNOTS), and Taylor Pate (@taylorlpate) discuss the following:

-Closing thoughts on Jazz/Rockets series
-Deep dive preview into Rockets/Warriors

Listen to The Red Nation Hoops Podcast on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.