Rockets News

The Rockets’ Ultra-Small Ball Lineup Was Fun to Watch

By Sam Armstrong
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 22: James Harden #13 and Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets look on during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 20, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 22: James Harden #13 and Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets look on during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 20, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Rockets already play smaller than most teams. On Thursday night against the Pacers, they went even smaller. Here’s how it went.

The Houston Rockets played a substantial amount of last night’s 110-100 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night without a true big man on the floor, and the result was promising as well as entertaining.

With about eight minutes left in the third quarter, Mike D’antoni subbed out center Marquese Chriss with the Rockets down 71-57, leaving a lineup with players all 6’8” and shorter with Carmelo Anthony playing the five-spot.

Part of the reason for this was that both Clint Capela and Nene Hilario were out for the game, leaving the center position slim for the Rockets. But it was also because D’antoni was probably just as curious as the rest of us to see how it would go. And since it’s the preseason, why not?

Over the next six minutes, Houston went on a 21-2 run to take a 78-73 lead, holding the Pacers without a single field goal over that span.

With the super small ball lineup on the floor, the Rockets were able to play all five players on the perimeter, leaving Myles Turner scrambling to keep up and opening up driving and cutting lanes. The stretch included threes from Carmelo, James Harden, and Eric Gordon (2), a beautiful pocket pass from Harden to Melo for an easy layup, and Harden dropping a dime to Michael Carter-Williams for a fast break slam.

On the defensive end, things couldn’t have gone much better. Indiana predictably tried to post up 6’11” Myles Turner on Anthony, as well as Houston’s other shorter defenders, but to no avail. The Rockets’ swarming defense and numerous deflections led to missed jumper after missed jumper. Over the six minutes, the Pacers were 0-13 from the floor.

Carmelo addressed the media postgame about how he felt playing the center position:

“That’s the beauty of it, to go out there and not just be doing one thing and be one-dimensional. The way that we play, you have to be multi-dimensional, you have to play multiple positions.”

The Rockets cooled off after the dominant stretch and ended up falling to the Pacers, but they proved a few things in the small ball experiment. First, that they can score in bunches and get high-quality shots without a legitimate lob threat on the floor, and second, that they defend well even when the opposing team has a skilled post player on the floor.

5 observations from win against Grizzlies. Next

Don’t expect the Rockets to go to this lineup much in the regular season, especially when Capela and Nene get healthy and Chriss learns how to play effectively with Harden and Paul. But if the squad can run five guards and wings out there for a few minutes a game and get productive minutes, all the better.

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