The Houston Rockets haven’t gotten as many free throws as they’d like to have in the first round, but the blame for that is mostly on them.
By the time the final buzzer sounded in the Thunder’s 117-114 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday, Oklahoma City had enjoyed an 18-attempt advantage from the free throw line. With a 28-10 disparity, it’s easy to point the finger at chief official Tony Brothers and the crew as favoring the Thunder to prolong the series.
All over Rockets Twitter at halftime, even with the game tied at 60 apiece, I read several accounts of the NBA being rigged, the game already being decided by officiating, and even some fans saying they’re shutting the game off early. I get it — this is the time of year everyone’s been waiting for, and everyone wears their emotions on their sleeves with every passing play.
That said, I can’t buy into the idea that the league is somehow deciding to purposely sabotage the Rockets nearly every time they hit the court. Are they getting unfavorable calls? Of course. What fanbase doesn’t believe the referees are out to get them now and then? The fact is, every team gets bad calls.
An advantage of 18 free throw attempts is significant in the grand scheme of things, but let’s consider the shot selection of both teams before passing the blame on getting hosed by officials. To start, the Houston Rockets shot a playoff record 58 attempts from downtown in Game 4.
Next: Settling instead of driving
The Houston Rockets’ shot selection
At times, like to start the third quarter, the strategy of shooting three after three was working well for the Rockets, helping them obtain a lead of up to 15 points.
When the pinpoint shooting began to slow down, however, the Rockets didn’t have a plan B. With Chris Paul and the Thunder mounting a furious comeback in the fourth quarter, the Rockets were settling for difficult threes and ill-advised step backs.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/08/24/0041900174/493/d3bcc021-0dd0-19f8-e564-8e21514b9184_1280x720.mp4
Yes, this shot was late in the shot clock, so James gets half of a pass on this one, even though he did have time to at least step in a little bit. But what’s the idea behind taking a shot like this?https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/08/24/0041900174/521/e962f111-4631-5544-5ee4-a3b0e48fbb05_1280x720.mp4
James Harden is more than capable of making that shot, and he’s done so on countless occasions. But it’s not reasonable to expect a parade to the free throw line when 64 percent of your team’s shots are from long range.
In Games 1 and 2, the Rockets shot 37 free throws to Oklahoma City’s 44. That’s an average difference of just 3.5 per game, which is not significant. It’s not a coincidence that Houston outscored the Thunder by four points in the paint collectively in those games.
Next: What Houston must do going forward
Drive inside and you’ll be rewarded
In their close loss on Monday, Houston allowed 46 points in the paint while scoring 34 of their own. The Thunder were clearly the aggressors when it came to attacking the rim, which is where the majority of foul calls are received.
There will be questionable foul calls on both sides in every game. Harden’s travel call in Game 4 was certainly questionable. Still, with the Rockets establishing a 15-point lead well after that play, it’s hard to believe that officiating had anything to do with Houston dropping another one to the Thunder.
All credit to the knowledgable fanbase of the Rockets — by the time the game was over, they knew there were bigger problems than some bad calls when we ran a poll on Twitter postgame:
Ok, everyone, let's air it out. What was the single BIGGEST factor in today's collapse? Comment if other.
— Space City Scoop (@SpaceCity_Scoop) August 24, 2020
In the future, the Rockets must do a much better job of mixing in some drives to the basket when their threes aren’t falling. They’re at their best when their offense isn’t predictable, and every team in the league knows that Houston falls in love with the 3-pointer too easily.
When the Rockets begin driving to the hoop more often, only then will they begin to see more even numbers when it comes to visits to the charity stripe. Until then, they only have themselves to blame.