For as much as the Houston Rockets’ elite offense has been deserving of all the conversation that has surrounded it throughout the season, the team’s defense has been good as well.
The Rockets finished the regular season tied for sixth in the NBA in points given up per game at 103.9 and sixth by themselves in defensive rating at 103.8 (points given up per 100 possessions).
On Wednesday night in its 116-108 Game 2 playoff series loss to the Utah Jazz at home, however, the Houston defense had problems as the Jazz put up 116 points and had an offensive rating of 109.4.
As such, the focus at the team’s practice Thursday before it left Houston for Friday’s Game 3 at Vivint Arena was getting better defensively.
“We scored enough points, but our defense has got to be better,” said point guard Chris Paul. “We gave them way too much easy stuff.”
In particular, the Rockets worked to adjust to how Utah often played the pick-and-roll during Game 2. Since Houston likes to switch on defense once a pick (usually by a big man) is set for a guard, the Jazz regularly had the screener slip to the basket before actually setting the screen.
Because the Rockets wanted to switch and weren’t ready for the slip, this often meant that two defenders would end up on the guard and no one on the screener, making it easier for Utah to generate a good shot.
“They were just putting us in a confusion because we switch a lot, so they put us in a situation where you’re not sure if you’re going to switch or not, and that second of confusion had (Rudy) Gobert at the basket or the guard going downhill, and that was huge, especially in the first quarter and like halfway through the second quarter they did that,” reserve forward and defensive ace Luc Mbah a Moute said. “We never got that really tight.”
Head coach Mike D’Antoni said a lack of talking on defense led to the confusion.
“It was a miscommunication, really, of a lot of plays, and it led to a breakdown of confidence of what we were doing, confidence of switching out and doing the things that we do, and now you start to hesitate. Once you hesitate, all is lost,” he said. “We generated 108 points. That should be enough. We messed up the pick-and-roll. It cost us about 25 or 30 points.”
D’Antoni also recognizes that his players need to make more than 27 percent of their 3-point attempts as they did in Game 2, although he’s confident that can happen.
The Rockets shot 53 percent from beyond the arc in Game 1 and 36 percent over the course of the regular season.
“I know no one likes to hear it, but sometimes it’s a question of you’ve gotta make shots,” he said. “We didn’t make ‘em. They made ‘em, so give them the credit. They beat us.”
In the same thought, however, D’Antoni returned to defense.
“Next game they can’t do that,” he said. “We’ve gotta play and take away the things that we can.”