Everybody knows Daryl Morey, Mike D’Antoni, and the Houston Rockets went all-in on analytics-driven small ball with five players under 6′ 7″ with layups, free throws, and 3-point shots being their blueprint for scoring.
Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers took the Morey and D’Antoni Rockets to school and put on an elite clinic on how to shut down the three scoring keys Houston’s small ball offense relies upon to destroy opposing defenses. After a first half shootout, the Lakers doubled and forced Harden to give up the ball, hounded and chased Houston’s shooters off the 3-point line, and protected the rim without fouling with a swarm of mobile shot blockers.
The result was a second half where the Lakers’ defense shut down the small ball Rockets’ offense, holding them to just 38 points on 13 for 37 from the field (35.1%), 6 of 16 from deep (37.5%), and 6 of 6 from the line (100%). This was against a Houston team that boasted the third best second half offense in the NBA during the regular season, averaging 56.8 points while taking 44.5 shots from the field, 23.3 three-pointers, and 13.2 free throws.
The usual defensive strategy in the NBA is to take away what a team does best and force them to do what they don’t do best. In the second half, Frank Vogel’s strategy was to take away everything the Rockets are built to do. They limited Houston to just 16 3-point attempts versus their average of 23. They allowed them to make just 1 of 11 on layups and blocked 5 of them. And they defended without fouling allowing the Rockets only 6 free throws.
It will be fun to see what changes D’Antoni will make to counter the moves Frank Vogel’s made to shut down Houston’s offense in what is a must win game. These are the chess games where great coaching comes into play. So far Mike D’Antoni won the first game and Frank Vogel has come back to win the last two games. Morey’s and D’Antoni’s future with the Rockets may be on the line tonight so look for new winkles tonight against the Lakers.
If the Lakers win, this series is all but over. If the Rockets win, then all bets are off and we’re likely to see a Game 7. I still have the Lakers in 5 but we’re going to need big games from Playoff LeBron and Playoff Rondo to do it.