Using underdog status for all it's worth: How the Rockets can shake things up.

Like most of you, I spent most of the latter part of Game 1 thinking about how our beloved Rockets could change direction and have a shot at stealing this series.

I’m excited about where they are, and expect great things, but in the comfort of my living room, the short-term is always going to be on my mind.

I’m going to offer a little mad-science experiment to you, my insightful friends of TDS.

We are playing the Thunder, a team that can and will play a similar style of basketball to our own. That’s a real problem when you are the underdog.

When you play a better team with a different philosophy (like the prodding Spurs, or the grinding-defense Grizzlies) they have to beat you and your style. When you play a mirror match, they just have to be better.

Right now, OKC is better.

This got me to thinking about a great article by Malcolm Gladwell, where he talks about how underdogs win more often than you would expect (he even structures it around a girls’ basketball team.)

It’s great article, and well worth the read, but I’ll summarize in the interest of time: If and underdog wants to win, they have to change the terms of the battle.

That’s why an underdog playing a different brand of basketball can win. That’s why the 2009 Rockets took the Lakers to 7 games, by using defense and hustle changed the terms for a team whose scoring depended on marquee names.

Gladwell observes:

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.

Dream Shakers, let’s put on our mad scientist caps, and play a game where we embrace our own rules. How could the Rockets change the terms of engagement to their advantage? I’d like to hear your thoughts, but first I’ll offer a few of my own.

I think the Rockets should aim for penetration, on every single play. I don’t mean meditative pick and rolls, I mean full on barrel-into-defender drives. I want them to draw fouls. If they continue to use their speed and athleticism simply to make a drive for the rim, they can shed their defender and bring in the help defender, hopefully Ibaka or Collision. Our faster guards would draw sloppy coverage from their post, and could earn quite a few fouls, which in turn, would put them in foul trouble and hopefully make them a little sheepish about preventing those drives.

Basically, we spam for opportunities to draw the foul. Every possession is an opportunity to draw a foul. Eventually, OKC has to adjust. That gives some opportunity to the Rockets to change the tempo.

Similarly, they could drive, and ditch. Either taking the three or (if in a small lineup) drive again from another fast player on the wing. Wear down the clock as much as possible. The fewer possessions, the fewer points OKC can score (as they are currently converting a considerable percentage of their possessions against our defense.)

I know this is silly, but silly is what you need when you are outgunned.

What do you think? What unconventional strategy might be key to the Rockets stealing this?

No cursing in title. No pirated material, such as links to online game streams. Do not cut/paste entire sections of content from other websites. Thanks.

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