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Analysis: Rockets punch Warriors in the nose, provide needed rivalry

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That 116-108 loss actually meant something — let’s appreciate that.

Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

We Warriors fans are a cocky bunch, and so are the Golden State Warriors. After all, even after a rough loss — or any loss really — it’s all to easy to say “well, the Warriors didn’t play their best. No way these guys beat us if we play right.” Because it’s true. This team has a ceiling so high, it may as well be in outer space.

And then up comes this Houston Rockets team. Rising up to let the Warriors know that just because the Cleveland Cavaliers are struggling doesn’t mean that we are going to stroll our leisurely way into a repeat NBA championship. Last night’s eight point loss handed the Rockets the advantage on the season. And yeah, “the regular season doesn’t matter once the postseason hits”...but come on — it matters a little.

Respect that Rockets offseason

While not quite on par with adding Kevin Durant, the Rockets offseason was a near-flawless victory. With the additions of Chris Paul, a bevy of able wing defenders, and the improvement of Clint Capella, the Rockets basically fixed all the issues that were holding them back last year.

Chris Paul can cover well enough for Harden to ensure that the team doesn’t completely meltdown when he heads to the bench. The wing defenders help to frustrate the Warriors penetration and passing. Capella is exactly the sort of switch-happy, rim-to-perimeter defender that is quickly becoming the ideal answer for a league that is constantly growing more and more oriented towards spreading the floor rather than relentlessly hammering the ball into the low post.

The end result looks a lot like what we saw last night.

Respect that Rockets shooting

While they may not be the most accurate (that honor belongs to the Warriors), the Houston Rockets excel at jacking up a ton of 3-pointers. Despite not even appearing in the top five of 3-point shooting percentage, the Rockets lead the NBA in made threes - by a lot. Their 692 threes are significantly ahead of the second-place Warriors’ 547, an increase of over 25%.

In video games, “spamming an attack” refers to the repeated use of one item or attack. For example, someone may win a fighting game by spamming a foot sweep attack, or fireball. It’s cheesy, but can be effective. And this is pretty much what the Rockets are doing right now with their outside shooting. It’s as maddeningly simple as it is effective. Coach Steve Kerr doesn’t quite use this nomenclature, but he understands the patterns:

“Houston bases their offense on just gathering as many 3-point shooters as they could and everything is pick-and-roll, whether it’s (James) Harden and (Chris) Paul.

This spam attack approach can be surprisingly effective. Like my eight-year-old daughter beating me at a video game by just mashing a bunch of buttons, the Rockets’ have discovered a remarkable fecundity on offense where you would expect them to just be shooting their way out of games more often than not.

It comes down to this analysis from last season from Nylon Calculus that found that more three point attempts actually meant less variability in a team’s three-point percentage from game to game.

So, bottom line is: don’t count on the Rockets to just shoot themselves out of a game. In fact, the opposite is true.

The Warriors didn’t play their best game, but it looks like they’ll need to

I’ll never be the guy to say that some Warriors games are boring, but suffice it to say that this team is so good that they’ve removed a bit of the suspense from certain games. Struggling in the first half? No problem because you can almost guarantee a third quarter explosion. Steph Curry struggling to score? Don’t worry, we got Kevin Frickin’ Durant.

Last night, we had some struggles that should soothe fans’ concerns. Curry and Thompson went 1-for-8 in the fourth quarter and got outscored by the Rockets backcourt by 28 points. We lost the rebounding battle 33-46 - including 12 offensive rebounds - which helped the Rockets secure a 48-34 edge in points in the paint.

The turnovers were horrendous, too. Just from the box score, you see 19 turnovers and you know it was bad, but that number hides the fact that maybe half of those were the worst kind of bone-headed turnovers possible. Draymond Green bouncing a pass that sails five feet wide of Klay Thompson on the block; Curry with two really dumb ones right in a row (courtesy of Anthony Slater):

After last night’s victory, the Rockets hold the tie-breaker in the season series - meaning they hold an edge in playoff seeding, should the two teams finish with the same record.

More important than the tie-breaker for seeding though, they emotionally slugged us. This was a game both teams wanted to win. The Rockets won and looked like the better team for most of the night. They even had the prerequisite role player talking smack.

A loss is never ideal, but this loss may have birthed a rivalry. And that is good for everyone - the fans, the Warriors, and the NBA at large is ready for this.

Poll

Who was Warriors Wonder in the loss to Houston?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Stephen Curry
    (56 votes)
  • 3%
    Klay Thompson
    (26 votes)
  • 24%
    Kevin Durant
    (158 votes)
  • 6%
    Draymond Green
    (44 votes)
  • 2%
    Zaza Pachulia
    (14 votes)
  • 3%
    David West
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    Shaun Livingston
    (1 vote)
  • 2%
    Patrick McCaw
    (14 votes)
  • 36%
    Nick Young
    (235 votes)
  • 12%
    Kevon Looney
    (82 votes)
651 votes total Vote Now