When Mike D’Antoni won his NBA Coach of the Year Award with the Houston Rockets, he did so by turning his new team into one of the league’s great offenses. James Harden, seemingly overnight, went from All-Star to perennial MVP candidate.
It was certainly fun to watch.
The Rockets flamed out of the 2017 playoffs, though, and the team has responded in 2018 with a different energy and strategy. The ball spends most of its time in the hands of Chris Paul and Harden, and a host of role players are defensive specialists who can shoot three-pointers.
That defensive transition, even with a star like Harden, has put the Rockets two games away from reaching the NBA Finals.
In a pivotal Game 4 win, the Rockets limited the powerful Golden State Warriors to 12 fourth-quarter points. Houston escaped with a 3-point win and home-court advantage against the winner of two of the last three NBA championships.
"I thought this is the highest level we've ever played defensively, without a doubt," D’Antoni said following the Game 4 win. “Because we're talking about the best offensive team ever."
D’Antoni has long been known for its dominant offensive schemes, but the Rockets’ defense has been the great equalizer. In Houston’s two wins, D’Antoni’s squad is yielding just 98.5 PPG.
It’s no secret defense wins, especially since the Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, and Boston Celtics–the top three statistical defenses this season–all made the playoffs after losing their best player(s) to free agency or injury.
If the Rockets can continue defending at this rate, they will threaten for that elusive championship.
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