Houston Rockets: Austin Rivers says defense is key to team’s title hopes

Kelly Oubre Jr. #3 of the Phoenix Suns drives to the basket defended by Austin Rivers #25 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Kelly Oubre Jr. #3 of the Phoenix Suns drives to the basket defended by Austin Rivers #25 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets have played great defense since the All-Star break, leading to more wins. Austin Rivers says that a sustained defensive effort is the key to winning a title.

After the Houston Rockets finished seventh in the league in defensive rating last season, they took a massive step back in the first half of this season. They fell back into their habits from past years, putting all of their energy on offense because they couldn’t rely on their defense to get crucial stops. But Houston has turned it around since the All-Star break.

The Houston Rockets are 15-4 since the break, the best record in the league. They have defeated the Warriors, Nuggets, Raptors, Celtics and 76ers in that span. A big part of Houston’s recent success has been their defensive effort. The Rockets have the second best defensive rating in the NBA since Feb. 21.

Houston’s switch everything defense has really disrupted their opponents’ offensive scheme in recent weeks. The Rockets have ranked first in steals and fifth in opponent’s 3-point percentage since the break.

Chris Paul and James Harden have done an outstanding job in the passing lanes to force turnovers and Houston as a team has really made an effort to contest 3-point shots. Of course, the Rockets shoot and make more 3s than any other team and have made 5.6 more 3-pointers per game than their opponents since the break. With such a huge advantage from behind the arc, its easy to see why the Rockets have had so much success.

Houston had perhaps their best defensive performance against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, who are the second seed in the west. The Rockets limited Denver to a season-low 85 points. The Nuggets shot just 36.9 percent from the floor and 16.7 percent from 3-point range (4-for-24).

After the game, Austin Rivers told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon that this is the type of defensive effort the Rockets need in order to win it all.

“If we play defense like that, we can win the title. That’s what we believe around here.”

The addition of Rivers, along with Iman Shumpert and Danuel House has definitely helped Houston on the defensive end. Getting Chris Paul and Clint Capela healthy has obviously made a huge difference, too.

Next. A look at Eric Gordon’s hot month of March

The Rockets now have a roster full of capable and versatile defenders. When Houston’s offense is clicking, they will have a good chance to win in the playoffs, no matter who is front of them.