Yet again, the narrative shifts.
After Games 1 and 2, the Rockets were clearly the better team in this series. They were too much for Minnesota and were heading to the second round in a walkover. Houston’s defense looked impenetrable and the Rockets were 2-0 despite not bringing their A game either night.
Now, the story is that the Rockets haven’t been the same team since their 17-game winning streak and are in a huge rut and could easily become the fourth number 1 seed to lose in the first round. The Houston defense is porous and a huge liability. The Rockets will never peak again. Once again, Mike D’Antoni’s system cannot work in the playoffs and Houston has sacrificed their postseason success in order to have a meaningless good regular season record.
Once again, the key is to have patience. Yes, the Rockets looked good but not great in Game 2. They looked absolutely awful defensively in Game 3. Minnesota looked lifeless in Game 2 after the first quarter yet got whatever they wanted in Game 3. The truth probably lies in the middle. The Rockets are still the better team, but Minnesota is not your usual 8 seed. They were sitting in the 3 seed for most of the season but fell off when they lost their best overall player.
The Timberwolves totally changed their style of play in Game 3, taking more triples than they had in the first two games. We’ve never seen a team completely change their identity this late in the season, but if Minny wants to compete with the Rockets they will need to continue to stretch their offense.
The Rockets need to attack the basket. Too often in Game 3, they were content to take jumpers or threes when they had a lane to attack the basket. I know that shooting triples is the Houston way, but getting to the rack and to the free throw line is also what they want to do.
Finally, Houston cannot let Minny have such an easy night offensively as they did in Game 3. We can talk all night about how the Rockets’ offense hasn’t been great for a couple of months now or how Houston’s cadre of shooters has let them down. Yeah, Clint Capela missed some bunnies in Game 3. Chris Paul hasn’t looked great other than some flashes in Game 2. James Harden isn’t aggressive enough, and when he is he’s been missing layups. But even fixing all of those issues won’t fix the fact that the Rockets gave up 121 points to a team that was averaging 92 through the first two games.
Houston’s closeouts on shooters were slow and they fell prey to the same moves over and over. While the Rockets are content to let Andrew Wiggins beat them from the midrange, they did nothing to stop Jeff Teague, who used the same “drive hard into the defender, shoot a fallway floater” move over and over again to great success. Mostly, the Wolves got more shots in Houston’s hot zones (paint and three) than the Rockets should be comfortable allowing. If Houston’s defense doesn’t return to the level we’ve seen all year, this is a real series that could go the distance.
Tip-off is at 7pm CT on TNT