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Five Minutes of Doom: How the great wall of small ball helped Houston in Game 5

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by DaneB, Aug 30, 2020.

  1. DaneB

    DaneB Member

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    Does anybody have access to this article? If so, can you please provide?
     
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  2. D-rock

    D-rock Member

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    Link?

    @J.R. is usually the man for this.
     
  3. topfive

    topfive CF OG

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  4. hakeem94

    hakeem94 Member

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    let me sum it up for you, rockets stopped settling for 3s and went hard to the rim
     
  5. DaneB

    DaneB Member

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    Very true and they still almost put up 50 3s.
     
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  6. hakeem94

    hakeem94 Member

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    yes this is the beauty of it all!

    when you score at the rim and you do it with force and determination you assert your dominance, you send the message to your opponent, as well as, you send the powerful message to yourself

    then its easy to score from 3 and finish the job... its just a formality then and cherry on the top...

    otoh when all you do is 3s, your opponent and even you know, you're building the tower of cards and you gonna collapse eventually
    2 is greater than 3
     
  7. Deckard

    Deckard Blade Runner
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    Driving to the basket again and again scores. It also sets up the 3 and should get the opposition in foul trouble, assuming the refs care about calling the game fairly. No sure thing at all, especially if it’s the Rockets doing the driving.
     
  8. hakeem94

    hakeem94 Member

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    yep but obviously much surer than 35 footers
     
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  9. saleem

    saleem Contributing Member

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    That's what we need to do, plus make the extra pass for 3's. Defense is fine. Keep it up on defense, the young ones will get frustrated and play into our hands.

    I do expect a physical and dirty game from OKC though. The refs will look the other way.
     
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  10. J.R.

    J.R. Contributing Member

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    In basketball terminology, the ‘nail’ describes a defensive concept which involves the placement of an additional defender at the free-throw line.

    While simple in its meaning and understanding, a deeper complexity lies in the importance and nuance of such a play. At the core of any scheme involving nail is help. This help can further be extracted into two other simple concepts: communication and teamwork. The best team defenses are the ones that talk the most, work together the best, and have a heightened sense of accountability.

    In conjunction with that, the best nail defenders are ones that have the dexterity to shrink the floor, the length to disrupt, the eyes to roam effectively, and the IQ to think two steps ahead of the opponent.

    The execution of nail defense is also simple. An opposing ball handler might get past his defender, only to be confronted by another man on his way to the basket. Said ball handler will then be tasked with either continuing his path to the rim or giving the ball up to a teammate who should be able to make a play given the numbers advantage. Smart and effective nail defenders time their movements in a way that is not only in accord with the rest of their teammates’ rotations but also deter scoring threats from just that—scoring. They also neutralize what should be openings for the other team.

    Robert Covington is a prime example of that. For starters, he passes the eye test— a 6’7 forward with a 7’2 wingspan. Watching him defend in the halfcourt is like observing a conductor operating in busy traffic. His head on a constant swivel, his hands twitching, his eyes in two different places at once, his brain operating at peak efficiency. Trevor Ariza was adept at this and perhaps the biggest reason why his defensive reputation has lasted such a long time in this league. Covington’s skill set isn’t that of a ball-stopper as much as a ball-deterrent. It’s a far easier job putting out fires before they’re even allowed to catch flame.

    We speak about nail defense and help because at halftime of Game 5, the Rockets were in trouble and in real danger of sinking back into the deep dark place that had cost them two straight games.

    In the opening quarter, Houston had shown a real intent to get stops again and again. Of course, there would be increased importance of the situation, with Game 5s being notably pivotal in NBA playoff history. Houston jumped out to an early 13-7 lead off of the characteristics that had gotten them the first two wins in the series—defense. The Thunder made just five field goals out of 26, a paltry 19.2 percentage, and looked hopeless. For twelve minutes, the Rockets forced themselves on the Thunder guards, putting constant pressure and physically dominating them. Ball screens were blown up, airspace was shrunk, and sloppy Oklahoma City offense ensued.

    But for all the work they had done, the Rockets offense wasn’t so hot themselves and only led by 10 heading into the second quarter.

    “The second quarter, we kind of lost our way a little bit,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said following Houston’s 111-80 win.

    You could attribute some of it to the Thunder simply being a good, tough playoff team who was bound to fight back, but in actuality, Houston’s defense got torched. Just like in Games 3 and 4, it was Dennis Schroder who was culprit, exposing Houston’s biggest flaw against quicker guards—being small, but not small enough.

    Danuel House, Jeff Green, and Covington had trouble staying in front of the speedy Schroder, who danced, pranced, and weaved his way to 18 points in the quarter alone, on 6-10 shooting and three triples. What was once a 12-point Rockets lead had been obliterated and it was Oklahoma City who led by 5 with just under two minutes to play.

    The Rockets were able to wrestle the lead back right before the halftime buzzer, but there was a lack of conviction. It just didn’t feel like it would hold up. After all, Oklahoma City had made a habit of slashing Houston leads over and over again, surely this would be no different.

    During the intermission, Houston had to think back to the work they had done in the days before, in the first two games of the series and even parts of Games 3 and 4. The failure to do so, the failure to get a firm grasp on the second half could have disastrous implications. A 3-2 series lead for the Thunder would represent a collapse of epic proportions on the Rockets front and present the arduous task of having to win two games just to advance. It would be the basketball equivalent of taking one step forward and three steps back.
     
  11. J.R.

    J.R. Contributing Member

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    “We were upset a little bit about giving up 31 points in the second [quarter],” D’Antoni said. “That was what we were ticked off with at halftime.”

    Despite the momentum shift that had swung in the Thunder’s favor, the second half was a great opportunity to rectify that. If Games 3 and 4 served as a reminder, the hot hand of one Thunder guard could easily trickle down to the other two. The box score would tell you that in the third quarter, the Rockets outscored the Thunder 37-18, which is of course, good. But how they did it is more impressive.

    It starts with help defense or the use of nail as we mentioned earlier.

    “The main thing we wanted to talk about was getting back to showing that wall,” Covington said. “We know their team likes to drive so in order for us to really be effective we have to help out our guys, not leaving them on an island. We did a good job of talking and cutting off drives. They were getting to their spots in the first half but in the second half we really locked in. We really didn’t want to play around and once we got the lead, everything flowed after that.”

    The wall Covington is referring to is not a new concept to Houston. Teams have often used this tactic to slow down physically-dominant players and force them into clumsy offensive fouls or simply forcing them to pass to someone else. Giannis Antetokoumpo sees this defensive approach a lot, as does Westbrook at times.

    But a wall can serve different purposes. It must not always stop a large, strong player. Sometimes, they stop small, crafty ones as well.

    Below is an early Thunder possession, with Houston getting a bit of separation and Paul at the helm. P.J. Tucker shades Paul towards the middle of the floor where Covington will be, forming a brief wall. Paul, a smart player recognizes this and throws his patented skip pass to an open Luguentz Dort in the right corner. And just like that, Houston had gotten what it wanted on a number of layers.

    First, Dort’s confidence was at an all-time low considering how he had started the game. The Rockets were well aware of Dort’s defensive impact during the first four games of the series. They had even tweaked how they ran their offense, vastly increasing the number of on-ball screens to free James Harden from his reach. But Houston realized something which they should have done eons ago: if Dort is going to beat you with his defense, you have to make him beat you with his offense as well.

    In the first quarter, the Rockets flat out refused to pay any attention to him, letting him shoot his way into oblivion if he so chose. Dort took nine of Oklahoma City’s first 26 shots, making one field goal—a dunk out of a broken play—and missed all six of his three-point attempts.

    Dort is a good defender and a decent finisher. But what he isn’t is an offensive threat, and more importantly, he’s not an effective playmaker. Houston’s biggest chess move was forcing the ball into Dort’s hands and daring him to beat them. During Games 3 and 4, Dort’s usage hovered around 15. In Game 5, that number shot way up to a whopping 29.0%. That’s more than any Thunder player not named Schroder. Putting Dort in uncomfortable situations like this forces him to play out of character. He finished just 1-5 on field goals with two turnovers, because of instances like this:

    Vid

    Dort’s offensive troubles were a microcosm of the airtight bind Houston put Oklahoma City in for a quarter, but the four minutes of doom effectively killed the Thunder’s chances of winning the game. As a team, they hit just eight of 21 attempts, including going 0-7 from distance and eight turnovers. An offensive rating of 22.2 is a pretty huge indicator of the amount of frustration Houston was able to cause.

    “We did a better job of guarding the ball,” Harden said, “Of guarding their isos and things like that. Trying to protect the paint. Individually that’s where it starts. It starts [with] the ball. I think we did a good job individually of taking on the challenge and our weak-side defense was better as well.”

    Time and time again, the Thunder ran into the Rockets’ great wall of small ball. From the 12-minute mark of the third quarter up until the 7-minute mark, Houston looked as dominant of a defensive unit as we’ve come to see during D’Antoni’s four years as head coach. Help defense was as aggressive as ever, with players able to stunt on drives and force Thunder players into mistake after mistake after mistake. Even a hard closeout by House doesn’t present Danilo Gallinari with any sort of advantage, as Harden is in between the nail and the ball to clean up, and the wall of Tucker, Covington, and Gordon is there to force a wayward pass out of bounds:

    Vid

    By the time the dust had settled, Houston was in the midst of a 19-2 run, up 20 courtesy of a Harden triple, and the game was decided, both mentally and physically. Overall, Houston forced 12 steals, 17 Thunder turnovers, and an NBA-record 39 missed threes.

    For five dreadful minutes, the Rockets defense resembled the league’s best it has come to be during the playoffs—a defensive rating of 101.3. For this team to reach their championship goals they speak of on a weekly basis, they’ll need dominant stretches like these. Their offense doesn’t even need to be at an all-time efficiency, although their ball movement and decision-making in that stretch were excellent, generating 7 assists on 13 made field goals. Houston is at their best when they simplify their game on both ends of the floor, and in the third quarter, simplicity served its purpose.”

    “We talked about it the last few days,” Covington said. “We said we had to get back to the way we played the first two games. We got away from it the last couple of games but tonight was a step in the right direction for us. Building momentum going into Game 6, going out there and building off what we did in this game. Russ played a significant part in that and guys just became more engaged. Instead of letting up, we just put our foot on the gas and kept going and that’s what we have to do. We can’t let teams continue to get confidence. It allows them to keep the game close and we didn’t allow that tonight.”
     
  12. clos4life

    clos4life Contributing Member

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  13. hakeem94

    hakeem94 Member

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  14. YallMean

    YallMean Member

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    Talking about nail defender, put our hands together to Harden. He was really focused on defense being a disruptor.
     
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  15. don grahamleone

    don grahamleone Contributing Member

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  16. D-rock

    D-rock Member

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    I would add some of my other favorites:

    @Clutch
    @Deuce
    @foggy94
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    @bleedroxred79
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    @hakeem94
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    @durvasa

    And many many more that I'm forgetting.

    CF, it takes a village!
     
    #16 D-rock, Aug 30, 2020
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2020
  17. hakeem94

    hakeem94 Member

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  18. juanm34

    juanm34 Member

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    The whole Morley philosophy was 3’s and lay-ups.
    For some reason or another Dan toni seems to stick to only jacking up 3’s.
    Only took him 4yrs to read the rest of the memo.

    Corner has been turned!
     
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  19. SuperMarioBro

    SuperMarioBro Member

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    While there is truth to this, to call the 3 a "formality" or a "cherry on top" is definitely not giving it the appropriate weight.

    The threat of our 3s is a big part of what opens up the drive. It works both ways. It's easy to criticize our shooting after we go cold in a couple painful and memorable ways, but 3-pt shooting in high volumes is still central to the success of our [or almost any great, modern] offense.
     
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  20. SuperMarioBro

    SuperMarioBro Member

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    lol, pretty damn impressive to remember that many users you enjoy! I don't think I could remember that many users total on all the message boards I frequent...
     
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