OAKLAND– The Houston Rockets looked like were they grounded on their launch pad as Golden State rushed to a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors were on their way to starting a different new chapter in NBA history along with the Cleveland Cavaliers. If the Warriors won game 4 in addition to the Cavs victory last night, it would have been the first time that both victors won their series in sweeps.
However, the Rockets have renewed hope after their 128-115 win on Monday. Houston pulled off the nearly impossible task of overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the Los Angeles Clippers so no one should underestimate the possibility that the Rockets can write a new chapter in history. Will Houston become the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit? How can they pull off this seemingly impossible feat?
There is a simple concept to pulling this off. It will start with Head Coach Kevin McHale. He must remind the Rockets what happened in the last round. He must deliver a passionate speech in the locker room and emphasize that the team made a similar comeback and that he believes it will happen again. The Rockets must first be fueled by his energy. Team morale must be at an all time high as well as being focused.
The second part of the concept is that the Rockets must shoot 3 pointers in the rhythm of their offense. Relying too much on lower percentage shots could give the Warriors the edge. Although Houston is a dominant three-point shooting team, the Rockets are better served by getting Dwight Howard (16.3 points per game in the playoffs) and James Harden (28 points per game in the playoffs) in the paint early and often. Howard will not be suspended for his flagrant foul in game 4. Houston should also give Trevor Ariza opportunities in the paint. He is only averaging 13.1 points per game but he is 6′ 8″ tall. The Warriors have the advantage by using 7′ 0″ tall center Andrew Bogut to stop penetration and disrupt shots in the paint. However, it would be ideal to see if Ariza can challenge Bogut a few times early on. It won’t hurt the Rockets to try it a few times once Howard and Harden are in rhythm.
Houston must give their stars as many opportunities to score early in the paint. There is no need to roll the dice early with three-point attempts. Houston should seek to dominate the Warriors physically then look for opportunities to pass the ball to open three-point shooters when the Warriors start concentrating on shutting down the paint. The Rockets should confuse the Warriors, which will work in the their advantage.
The most difficult key to victory is shutting down Stephen Curry. He can make almost every three pointer he attempts so the Rockets may need to take a defensive risk by using double teams on him early and often. Curry will be battling an injury tonight but it may not limit him that much. This strategy could backfire as it will give Klay Thompson more opportunities to score.
The Rockets must be smart on offense with shot selection but they will need to take some gambles on defense particular when guarding Curry.