Where do the Rockets go from here after yet again falling short?
The Houston Rockets fell to the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs for the fourth time since 2015, losing at home by a score of 118-105 in Game 6 of their second-round series on Friday night.
To make matters worse, the Rockets didn’t even lose to a full-strength Warriors squad, as they were missing Kevin Durant, who was nursing a calf strain. Heck, to take it a step further, Golden State was also without big man DeMarcus Cousins, who injured his quad in the first round and could be sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs.
After Durant went down in Game 5, some felt that this was finally Houston’s year and that the Rockets would, in fact, finally upend the Dubs and eventually advance to the finals.
But it wasn’t to be.
And this time, we can’t even pin too much blame on James Harden or Chris Paul, as Harden scored 35 points on a respectable 11-of-25 clip while making six three-pointers in the Game 6 loss (although he did miss five free throws), and Paul finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds while going 11-of-19 from the floor.
So just what is the issue? Why do the Rockets keep falling short?
Well, the obvious answer is the Warriors, as Golden State is simply a better team than Houston and has been for five years running. But it’s not just the Dubs; there are deeper issues here.
It might be seriously be time for the Rockets to consider a culture change, and I don’t mean that in terms of their locker room. I mean that in terms of the way they play the game.
Don’t get me wrong: what Harden did this season was spectacular, and he has my vote for MVP for his efforts, but Houston’s style of play is just not sustainable in the postseason. It doesn’t work.
Having a guy dribble out most of the shot clock and either shoot a three, get fouled, or kick the ball out to another three-point shooter is not how championship offenses run.
Look at how much the Warriors move the ball. Look what the San Antonio Spurs did back in 2014. Even the Miami Heat, a club led by ball-dominant players in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, moved the ball very well.
The Rockets simply don’t do that. Their entire offense is predicated on jacking up three-pointers and hoping they fall, and while that will win them some games when they get hot, it’s not a dependable strategy.
What Houston needs is another dynamic scorer next to Harden to take some pressure off of him and keep defenses off balance. Of course, that’s easier said than done, as the Rockets don’t have the assets nor the cap space to go out and acquire another star at the drop of a hat, but other franchises plan for that. Houston hasn’t done that. It has merely tried to employ the same strategy for several years.
Look: general manager Daryl Morey is a smart guy. He’s innovative. He makes some shrewd moves. But he needs to understand that sometimes, making adjustments is okay. It doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job. As a matter of fact, identifying what doesn’t work and then making an effort to correct it is what separates the men from the boys in any industry.
And by now, it should be clear as day that the Rockets’ strategy just does not work. Yes, it will rack up regular-season wins. Yes, Harden will put up historic numbers. Yes, they can be scary if they get hot. But when it comes down to it, there is no way you can rely on Houston’s style of play to win titles, and we have plenty of evidence to prove it.
The Warriors are flat out more talented than the Rockets, but their dominance over Houston goes beyond that. Let’s remember that two years ago, many felt the Rockets were on track for a Western Conference Finals meeting with the Dubs before the Spurs stomped them in a six-game second-round series in which Houston’s perimeter shooting was non-existent.
Golden State is not the only team the Rockets have lost to in recent years, so we can’t just say, “Well, Durant is leaving the Warriors this offseason, so the Rockets’ path will be clear in 2020.”
It goes beyond what Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson do. This is not about the Warriors. This is about the Rockets’ sticking to a plan that has not produced the right kinds of results, and if Houston does not make some tweaks going into next season, it is going to suffer the same fate, regardless of the opponent.
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