The Houston Rockets ventured outside of their comfort zone to warrant a 100-87 win against a tough Utah Jazz team, grabbing a 3- lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
While the well had run dry for marksmen like James Harden, Eric Gordon, and Trevor Ariza, All-Star point guard Chris Paul went to his bread-and-butter, as one of the best mid-range artists of the modern generation, finishing with a game-high 27 points on 11-of-23 from the floor.
Head coach Mike D’Antoni had fully bought into “Moreyball” over his two years under general manager Daryl Morey, continuing to sing the same layups, threes and frees song that so many have become accustomed to in Clutch City.
“To me, you’re always striving to be perfect,” D’Antoni told Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post in an interview last season, “and being perfect is all layups or threes.”
“We had a game where we had five mid-range shots, and if we push that to zero, I’d be happy. I don’t know if we can or not, but that’s ideal, because they’re just not good shots.”
The stellar backcourt duo of Paul and Harden combined for 2-of-13 from deep, requiring an on-the-fly adjustment by the team’s 6-foot quarterback, which meant back to the mid-range we go.
“That’s a layup for him,” Harden said about Paul shooting mid-range jumpers. “That’s just like getting to the rim.”
D’Antoni won’t break his sacred offensive principles, but he will bend them for the likes of Paul. That faith resulted in a lead at half time and an eventual second straight win on the road, putting the odds massively on their favor to move on to the Western Conference Finals.
“It sounds like CP, to me,” D’Antoni said with a laugh. “CP has a license that he can do that. Not many people can, but he has freedom. He’s one of the best ever at it. So, when you have that, you have to let him play his game.”
“That is a lot. Normally we take one or two… but I think they were good shots, and you have to give them credit, too. They run us off the [3-point line] and sometimes that’s what we have left, and you have to do it.”