The Houston Rockets have added a level of intrigue to their series with the Golden State Warriors by winning Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. In turn, this has resulted in many attempting to figure out what is what all over again, as an upset is possible.
Houston's two stars were by no means outstanding; James Harden shot less than 38% from the field and only 20% from three while Chris Paul was slightly more efficient from the field (42.9%), but he was still not as imposing as he can be.
It was the support cast of Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker (who combined for 11 threes and 68 points) that propelled them to victory. Will those three be able to continue their form when the series heads back to Oakland?
As anyone who’s watched Houston them play more than 12 minutes of basketball, they know they have severe reliance on the three-point shot. Daryl Morey has built this roster on the fact that this (combined with some capable defense) is the best way to beat the Golden State dynasty.
Morey, who simply does not get enough credit for how Houston is built, recently went on the record to state what the Rockets can do to beat the might Warriors. In fact, according to him, the only thing his guys think about is defeating Golden State.
Some might call that a big obsessive, but Houston's goal is to reach the NBA Finals. To achieve that, running through the best roster in the Western Conference was an inevitability.
Houston broke their own record for most three-pointers made in a regular season (1256) with James Harden breaking an individual record himself (265). Morey’s team is the embodiment of the spacing revolution taking place across the league.
Of their record 1256 threes made, 622 of them came in their 41 road games at rate of 36.7%. Funny enough, percentage wise, they were worse at home where they made 634 perimeter shots at a clip of 35.7%.
While they shot better on the road in the regular season, the playoffs have been a different beast. Houston have shot 476 threes in their 12 games (39.8 per game), with Portland (32.3) being the only other team to put up more than 30 per game across the playoffs.
Both their volume and consistency has remained relatively steady from the regular season into the playoffs. They’re only marginally worse overall in their accuracy (35.6%) and attempts (39.8 compared to 42.3). All this indicates that they should be able to continue their style when heading to Oracle Arena on Sunday.
In addition to that, the Rockets form against their current opponent has been solid. Against the Warriors in the regular season, Houston shot 35.8% on 42.7 shot attempts, better than their regular season accuracy at home.
The last time the Rockets faced the Warriors at the Oracle was the first game of the regular season when Houston upset Golden State in a thrilling one-point win.
It’s been over seven months since that day, so you can’t really take much from the contest. Psychologically though, it'll help the Rockets going into a pressurized environment in Oakland.
Like in their most recent matchup, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon were key contributors in the win. Tucker was great from the perimeter (20 points , 4/6 from three) and while Gordon didn’t make any threes, he was still effective with 24 points, 9/16 from the field, +16 in + / -.
Across the season Trevor Ariza has been severely underrated, especially in terms of his role within the Rockets’ system. When he got into foul trouble in game one, Houston were never really able to get themselves into a groove on either end of the floor. With Mike D’Antoni shortening his rotation, it seems that the starting five and Eric Gordon are going to be the players looking to steal this series from the Warriors.
Trevor Ariza’s three-point shooting across the regular season has been nothing short of remarkable. He had the second most corner threes (81, 43%FG), only two less than his aforementioned teammate, P.J. Tucker (83, 39.9%FG ). Both players have their preferred area as well, with Ariza making 49 of his threes from the right corner and Tucker making 50 from the left. Ariza’s percentages from both spots are pretty much identical while Tucker is noticeably worse from the right corner.
On the road, Ariza’s favored corner three-point shot is slightly worse overall (41.3%FG), as you’d expect from role players. He may shoot better from his favored position in the right corner (26/55, 47.3%FG) but he takes a dip due to his numbers from the left corner (12/34, 35.3%FG). As for Tucker, his numbers actually went up while on the road, shooting 41.6% from the corners.
In the playoffs Ariza has gone cold. He’s shot 32.8% from three on 64 shots and surprisingly, his form away from home has been better where he’s shooting 36% from the perimeter. That trend will be a welcome surprise for Rockets fans going into a crucial game three.
Meanwhile, Tucker’s perimeter shooting has been outstanding. He’s shooting almost 49% from the area, but a lot of that is due to his great home form. On the road that number drops to 35.7%. Still a respectable number, but Coach D’Antoni will be hoping he can carry some of his game two momentum into the team’s next contest with the champs.
If both Ariza and Tucker can get to their preferred spots and get open looks then they’re going to be a hassle for the Warriors defense. At home or away these two are integral to Houston’s success.
The two men that will be hoping to find Tucker, Ariza and co. for those open looks will be Houston’s star duo in the backcourt.
|3-Point Percentage (Home – Regular Season)
|3-Point Percentage (Away – Regular Season)
|3-Point Percentage (Home – Playoffs)
|3-Point Percentage (Away – Playoffs)
Those numbers aren’t very encouraging. Yes, the regular season away numbers are a welcome sign, but the playoff percentages are the most striking. Both Paul and Harden experience a dip in their accuracy, with Paul’s dropping by a staggering 9.9%.
While Ariza and Tucker’s form was promising at least one of Houston's stars are going to have to have a lights out game in Game 3 or 4 before they head back to Houston in Game 5.
It would certainly be nice if they can find the form they did in the regular season, but even a jump to around the 35% mark will make the Rockets much more threatening, especially when you take into the account the volume Harden takes his perimeter shots.
Former 6th Man of the Year and 3-Point Contest winner, Eric Gordon can be as hot or cold as a Katy Perry track. When he’s hot, it gives the Rockets a severe lift on the perimeter. In fact, on the road these playoffs he’s been shooting a very respectable 36.4% from the perimeter. That percentage alone should be enough for him to make an impact on that end of the floor.
Three-point accuracy will be a major element for both teams going into the remainder of this series. Moreover, the quality of looks on that will be the most important factor. With that, look for the Rockets to stay engaged defensively and get Tucker, Ariza and Gordon solid looks in their respective areas from the perimeter.
If they can continue to force turnovers and get perimeter points in transition, it’ll go a long way to getting the W. The Warriors will be looking to bounce back with a vengeance in Game 3. For Houston to get the win — they’ll need to do more than just nail their threes.