Golden State steamrolled Houston in their four regular season matchups, averaging 115 points per game, the highest scoring average of any Houston opponent. The only team better than Golden State in the first quarter this season, however, was Houston — which scored a league-leading average of 28.1 points per game in the first 12 minutes. The Rockets also had a slightly stronger first quarter scoring margin (plus-2.8) than the Warriors (plus-2.4). Houston was plus-19 in first quarters against Los Angeles, and should look to continue that trend if they want to be competitive in the games to come.
McHale’s team can get out to a fast start by parsing through what worked in last round’s series against Los Angeles and, for the most part, implementing it. During the regular season series, as the heatmap below depicts, Houston shot a ghastly 27.4 percent on jump shots against Golden State, with 44.2 percent coming from three-pointers above-the-break.
Houston has struggled from three-point range this postseason which is odd given that it’s the thumbnail image of General Manager Daryl Morey’s analytical approach to offense, but the playoffs yield different results from series to series. It very well could be that Houston finds more offensive rhythm in this series than it did in the regular season, but the Rockets need to hone in on what has been effective for them this postseason to do it.
When it’s humming, the Rockets offensive attack is an amalgamation of isolation sets, high screen-and-rolls, back screens, flash-cuts and putbacks.
What’s important about Houston’s pick-and-roll game is that it lends itself to everyone on the court. Who would’ve thought that the team would mount its furious Game 6 comeback with Harden on the bench the entire fourth quarter? With veteran guards Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni handling the ball, forwards/centers Dwight Howard, Clint Capela, Terrence Jones, and Josh Smith have more opportunities at the rim.
The team essentially eradicated its transition game by operating under the Hack-A-Whomever train of thought in their last series, but the Rockets have one of the most efficient transition attacks in the league and should open with it against Golden State. Getting out on the break and testing the Warriors’ transition defense can prove fruitful if everyone’s on the same page, getting to the maw of the defense and making the extra pass. The Vine below shows a well-executed Houston transition bucket that took all of 1.5 seconds and left Hedo Turkoglu searching through the lower-level dais for where the ball went.
The Rockets have created a monopoly on the glass this postseason, too. Houston averages 77.9 rebound chances per game, scores an average of 1.25 points per possession on putbacks, and has scored 96 points via the play type—with all of those figures leading the rest of the field. If Howard can win his matchup with Andrew Bogut, and force weak-side help, the Jones-Smith tandem can reap the rewards.
On the defensive side, if Golden State’s hiccups in their last series with Memphis taught the league anything, it’s that an airtight perimeter, defended by players who are willing to fight through ball screens, can be effective. The Warriors have been the most efficient shooting team during the playoffs, netting an effective field goal percentage of 53.1, according to SportVU data. However, the Rockets have presented different looks this postseason. Howard has become the defensive anchor the team expected him to be, and Smith has been a refreshing surprise when it comes to defensive rim protection.
It can be easy to fall into tunnel vision when combing through data of the Warriors; the team is so talented that their numbers prove it. Golden State has the top team defensive BPI rating of all remaining playoff teams (plus-4.0), and the second-highest team offensive BPI rating (plus-5.3). However, Houston can play with this team, and if the Rockets don’t want to make their first trip to the Western Conference finals in 18 years a quick outing, they’ll start fast.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.