As the season nears the halfway mark, the Houston Rockets have risen from the depths of the unknown and have begun to establish an identity. They have identified their strengths and figured out how to capitalize on them. They are the youngest NBA team and are at their best when they are playing aggressive defense, getting out on the break, keeping good spacing, attacking the lane, moving the ball, getting high-percentage shots, and hopefully making those shots. James Harden has the ability to create in the half-court when necessary as well.
The trouble with establishing an identity is that the rest of the NBA now has a scouting report and will begin to develop a blueprint for beating you. Like the ‘Borg’ in Star Trek, the other 29 teams not named the Rockets have now deemed the Rockets a real threat and have turned their attention to taking these young horses down. Sometimes these strategies include trying to beat the Rockets at their own game. It seemed like that was the strategy for the Boston Celtics tonight as they outlasted the Rockets.
Perusing this season’s box scores thus far shows that when the Rockets win, it is not because of a single factor. Like any successful sports team, the Rockets can win in more than one way. However, there are some characteristics that appear to be a given for this team. They are going to take a lot of shots. They are going to take a lot of threes. They are going to take a lot of free throws, most of the time, especially James Harden. Points-in-the-paint are a good indicator of getting high-percentage shots and the Rockets have dominated the final score when they have dominated in this category. Free throws definitely count as high-percentage shots but did not help tonight as they only made 41% of them.
Since it seems to be a given that the Rockets are going to run and shoot, the final outcome will depend heavily on how many of the 100-plus shots they typically take every game (including free throw attempts) actually fall through the bucket. Taking more high-percentage shots will inevitably increase that shooting percentage. The point is that the Rockets must continue to run and quite simply shoot better. When teams make adjustments and clog the paint like the Celtics did tonight, the Rockets must learn how to counter-punch and find a way to get that high-percentage shot without forcing things.
To conclude, the Rockets are now on everyone’s radar. They are contenders and very fun to watch. Now they must take it to the next level and be able to counter whatever strategy the opponent employs to take them down. They must keep using that winning formula but never stop tweaking it as other teams adjust.