The Houston Rockets once again fell victim to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night, this time in a 126-85 rout in Game 3 at Oracle Arena that gave the Warriors a 2-1 series lead. The 41-point margin of victory was also the largest in Golden State’s playoff history, eclipsing a record set in 1948 when the franchise was located in Philadelphia.
The Warriors held the Rockets scoreless for the last four minutes of the first quarter, going on an 11-2 run to end the quarter with a nine-point lead. Steph Curry led the way in the win with 35 points — 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting in the third quarter alone — and helped the “Hamptons 5″ lineup, featuring Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, score 52 points in just 17 minutes of playing time. The Warriors’ defense, meanwhile, held the Rockets to 88 points per 100 possessions, a far cry from Houston’s 109.6 offensive rating in the 2018 NBA playoffs.
“It’s just one thing led to another,” Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game. “Played soft, actually. I mean, you can’t do that with these guys. These guys are good.”
You could argue the Rockets beat themselves. James Harden shot only 7 for 16 from the field Sunday night, Chris Paul didn’t score in the first quarter and P.J. Tucker, a star in Game 2, finished with just six points. But the real problem is Houston isn’t playing fast enough to keep up with Golden State’s high-octane attack.
In Game 1, according to the Synergy Sports, Golden State had 20 transition opportunities and Houston had 22. However, the Warriors were much more efficient, scoring 1.1 points per possessions compared with 0.73 for the Rockets, resulting in a 119-106 victory for Golden State. In Game 2, the Rockets had more possessions in transition, 23 to 16, and beat the Warriors, 127-105. On Sunday night in Game 3, the Warriors got the better of it in transition by far, 26 possessions to 12, and won by 41 points.
Poor shooting by the Rockets only exacerbates the issue, allowing the Warriors to come up with the rebound and immediately go on the attack. Golden Sate decimated opponents in this way during the regular season and is doing so again in the playoffs, scoring 1.16 points per possession with a league-high effective field goal rate of 65 percent. In the playoffs, Durant alone is scoring 1.45 points per possession in transition, with Thompson (1.26, 81st percentile) and Curry (1.13, 56th percentile) each dangerous in his own right. If Houston does miss a shot, it must defend fast breaks better.
Turnovers are also costly. The Rockets have a 17 percent turnover rate in the conference finals, the highest of any of the remaining four teams. Golden State, meanwhile, is scoring 19 points per game off turnovers against Houston in this series.
Teams with a 2-1 series lead in the conference finals win the series 79 percent of the time, and, as you would expect, that goes even higher with a 3-1 series lead (93 percent), so the Rockets must make sure they control the pace in Game 4. Otherwise, a historically good season will be for naught.
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