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Beating Spurs will require 3-point shooting to rebound

The Rockets shot a full 7 percent worse from three against OKC than in the regular season.

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

History was made this season as James Harden and crew hoisted and made more three pointers than any NBA team ever.

The fact got lost somewhere amid five games of Russell Westbrook triple doubles, attempted fourth quarter heroics and white-knuckle endings.

During the five game series against Oklahoma City the Rockets were mortal from behind the arc, shooting a paltry 28.4%.

Check that. They were downright reasonable from three.

Harden and crew attempted only 33.8 threes a game against the Thunder.

What unbridled restraint. An unmitigated act of prudence for a team who took 40.3 three point attempts a game in the regular season.

And the threes they let loose landed at a lower rate that in the regular season. Houston made 28.4% from three against Oklahoma City, a full seven points below their 35.7% mark in the regular season.

The red and yellow boys shot fewer threes and shot worse on the threes than they did take against Oklahoma City. They averaged 43.2 points per game from three in the regular season. That average dropped to 28.8 points from three against the Thunder.

Clearly the difference didn’t impact the Rockets’ ability to win. Houston found other ways to score and did a quality job of forcing the shots they wanted when the game got close.

Most startling was the dramatic regression in three point shooting for James Harden and Ryan Anderson.

To illustrate the point we’ve got a chart displaying the difference in three point shooting between the playoffs and the regular season for each of the Rockets shooters.

The chart has the difference in three point percentage, makes per game, attempts per game, makes per 100 possessions and attempts per 100 possessions for the six necessary three point ball makers.

Playoff Threes To Season Threes Difference

Player 3P% 3PG 3PA PG 3P 100 3PA 100
Player 3P% 3PG 3PA PG 3P 100 3PA 100
Anderson -27.9% -1 0.5 -3.6 -3.3
Harden -10.7% -0.8 0.7 -1.2 0.7
Gordon -1.7% -1.1 -2.6 -1.9 -4.7
Ariza 0.1% -0.2 -0.5 -2.5 -5.5
Beverley 2.7% -1 -2.6 0.6 1.1
Williams 4.3% -0.2 -1.1 -0.9 -3.3

Find a full spreadsheet here

Ryan Anderson’s shooting woes are serious and it’s unlikely Houston can survive him shooting 12.5% from three for a series against the Spurs or Warriors. The power forward drained 40% of his shots from three in the regular season.

It would take a heroic amount of rebounding and competent defense on LaMarcus Aldridge to fully compensate for the current shooting deficiency.

It’s not just that Anderson isn’t making. Anderson’s reputation and mere presence create serious space for the rest of the Rockets. That’s why he stands three feet behind the three point line. If he goes cold then it could spell disaster for the spacing and flow of the Rockets starting five if the Spurs decide it’s not worth guarding him.

Just as concerning is James Harden’s shooting percentage, which fell by 10 points in the first round despite taking more threes per game against Oklahoma City than in the regular season.

It could be the ankle. It could be tired legs from the 81-game workload. It could be Andre Roberson or even the added attention from the defense in the fourth quarter.

Harden obviously carried the Rockets, like he regularly does, but shooting 24% from three may not be enough to beat a Spurs team gifted on both sides of the ball.

The good news is Houston doesn’t have to best past performances to have an outstanding offensive performance. They just have to get back to par for what was a historic season, but also accomplished over 82 games.