Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni is notorious for shrinking his playoff rotation to seven men or less. After three games in the Western Conference Finals, he may have no choice but to do it again.
In the process of dropping game three, the Rockets rotation shrunk when the game was still within reach. Chris Paul and Eric Gordon didn’t look right, but there was nowhere for the head coach to turn.
Gerald Green got pulled for Trevor Ariza when Kevin Durant exposed his defense while Luc Mbah a Moute’s shooting continued to suffer.
Going into game four expect the Rockets to stick to their core. Doing it with the hope they can produce the perfect game, like game two, and that their best can beat Golden State.
It seems from here on out it’s: James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, and Eric Gordon.
The problem presented by the Warriors is an inability for any opponent to significantly expose them. No mixture of Ryan Anderson and Gerald Green will be able to turn the tide of this battle. Instead it seems the remaining strategy will be to play the core and hope it can put together another game two performance.
Here’s how we got here:
Luc Mbah a Moute
In this series, Mbah a Moute hasn’t looked right. The shoulder injury he suffered in the season’s last game is clearly still impacting the defensive swing man. His missed layups are sympathy inducing. His attempt to establish himself in game three was met with an emphatic Kevon Looney block.
The Rockets dropped game three by 41 points, when the game began to get out of hand D’Antoni clamped down and went with the players he trusted. Eric Gordon was the only non-starter to touch the court in a dogged stretch between the second and third quarter when it was clear a comeback had to happen, or the game would be lost.
Luc Mbah a Moute made an appearance, but once again appeared hindered by his recent shoulder injury. A defiant block from Kevon Looney took Mbah a Moute out of the game from nearly the second he touched the court.
Green is ready to continue gunning and Houston desperately needs his shots to fall. In game three however his defense regressed to game one. Kevin Durant started hunting Green and there was no possible response.
Durant continues to play a near perfect series. His addition to the Warriors made the game a cheat code. His presence on the court exposes Green.
The native Houstonian will get spot minutes going forward, but unless he comes out breathing fire from his shooting palm, it seems D’Antoni will use him as needed only.
There was a brief moment of hope in game one. Ryan Anderson came out on the court to try and bolster the offense of the Rockets second unit alongside Gerald Green. It didn’t last long.
Anderson seems gun shy. It’s a temperament he adopted several months ago and hasn’t let go of since. The Rockets offense opens up with Anderson is pulling the trigger from 27 feet when he touches the ball. Right now that’s the past. This is the present.
The power forward didn’t come off the bench in game three until it was out of hand. Before the series D’Antoni hypothesized about Anderson’s better match up against the Warriors. Then he go glued to the bench. His shooting is still sagging and his speed keeps him from helping on the defensive end.
The Golden State Warriors are who we thought they were. The Rockets can still find an upset in game four. It may take another 8-9 shooting performance from PJ Tucker, but hope is not lost.
If the Rockets find a win in game four, it’s likely going to come on the back of the six players D’Antoni trusts most.