“The Houston Rockets did what they had to do to win Game 4 and even the series. Now the Spurs need to learn from their mistakes if they want to get themselves back in the game, but from a betting perspective, the Rockets have the momentum, and their high morale makes them a great betting pick for Game 5.” — MyBookie line manager David Strauss.
At the eve of the conference finals, everything is going exactly how fans, experts, and execs would have predicted. A third consecutive clash between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers seems inevitable. Out west, the Warriors used Kevin Durant as the ultimate bailout plan for whenever the Splash Brothers struggle against the Utah Jazz, but the success of the San Antonio Spurs will depend on how their defense holds up against a solid litmus test in the Houston Rockets and MVP candidate James Harden.
During halftime of TNT’s telecast of Game 4 in Houston, Kenny Smith pointed out one thing that has allowed Gregg Popovich to go blow for blow against the Rockets. With the consistent uptick in three-point shooting percentage, the traditional pack-the-paint strategy against elite shooting teams like the Rockets and Warriors is bound to give even the best teams fits. Popovich, the elite basketball savant that he is, has used simple math and basic fundamentals to keep his defenders at home on the arc, and encouraging his team to ignore the drive to the basket and allowing man coverage to be adequate.
This may allow the occasional jumper, but given what the Rockets were able to do to Oklahoma City in the first round (and how they eviscerated San Antonio in Game 1 of this series), this makes absolute sense. This has allowed best coach in basketball to unleash the best defender in The Association who is also being mentioned for MVP honors in Kawhi Leonard. In games against the Rockets, The Klaw has made signature plays in Spurs wins with his defense, especially against Harden.
In this example, Kawhi starts on Harden and Capela sets the screen. Pau Gasol simply retreats to the rim and Harden almost reflexively kicks it out to Beverley for a tough step back three. The math of Daryl Morey says the midrange is the devil, and Popovich knows this. It’ll be up to Harden and D’Antoni to make the decision to take and make shots from 10-15 feet.
The X-Factor in this series is when the Rockets have the rock, can the Spurs continue to contest those threes from downtown while minimizing the damage from mid-range while not allowing drives to the rim.
Look, we all know the Rockets have a heavy payload arsenal from beyond the arc and they’ve proven to the world that they won’t stop firing under Mike D’Antoni. Having already set the NBA’s all-time record for three-pointers as the former Suns and Knicks coach, players like reigning three-point champion Eric Gordon, Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza are able to get open shots when Harden dribble drives into the lane. It also helps that Houston has two of the top five field goal percentage leaders this postseason in Nene and Capela. Maybe Houston will be stubborn about their threes and layups, but with Nene’s groin injury ending his postseason run, game five will be pivotal in determining how Houston’s depth and willingness to tweak will counter the Spurs schemes.
On paper, the Spurs seem to be the bigger headache to the Warriors should they survive, as a victory over Houston would set up a matchup much similar to what they already faced in the conference semis. However, if Golden State and Houston see each other? Expect a live simulation consisting of a mashup of NBA Jam moving at the speed of Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Championship Edition.
That’s what we’re all rooting for anyway, right?
Game Odds: Houston Rockets vs San Antonio Spurs, May 9th, 2017
- Houston Rockets +5½-110
- San Antonio Spurs -5½-110
- O/U 207 -110
- Houston Rockets +190
- San Antonio Spurs -235