HOUSTON — After the Tony Parker-less Spurs bounced back to put them in a 2-1 hole in the Western Conference semifinals, the Rockets say they aren’t exactly searching to tighten down their defense or discover a new method on offense.
They’re just trying to find their swagger.
“Several guys have to have that confidence and swagger,” said guard James Harden. “It’s up to everybody on the team to help them bring it.”
The task in video sessions and a brief practice on Saturday was for the Rockets to push back in their own minds against the narrative that the Spurs took them completely out of their game in Friday night’s 103-92 loss on their home court.
The Spurs have not necessarily taken the last two games by taking the Rockets off their favorite places on the 3-point line. Houston got up 34 shots from behind the arc in Game 2 and 39 in Game 3, which is just below their regular season average of 40.6.
The Spurs did not quite rip holes in the Rockets defense in the last game, scoring fewer points and shooting at a lower rate than their regular season norms.
It sounds too simplistic, but the Rockets just didn’t make enough shots, which is where keeping the attitude and the confidence comes in.
“Swagger’s big,” said coach Mike D’Antoni. “We have to have confidence to go ahead and play our game in who we are and not get away from it. And keep playing.
“The perception is they’re taking away our 3s. They’re guarding the rim. No, they’re not. We kind of bought into it. We took 50 3s, 39 3s, 37 3s. We get what we want. Now, we have to make them. We have to make a better percentage. We have to do better and we can do that.”
According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, who broke down all the numbers, the Rockets went 5-for-24 on open 3-point shots and if they had made their usual clip that would have given them four more makes — a dozen points — that could have come in handy considering the final margin of 11.
D’Antoni is trying to head off any real concern in the locker room that could turn into panic and lead to collapse of all that the Rockets have worked to build. The Spurs have built and maintained an identity over the years and he’s trying to do the same with the Rockets.
When the Spurs were blown away by the Rockets freewheeling transition game in the series opener, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich insisted that the key to improving on defense was for his team to keep its composure on offense. D’Antoni is now doing the same, trying to keep any doubt from creeping in.
“This is a really good team. San Antonio is proven,” D’Antoni said. “They’ve got guys that have been there. This is not going to be easy. It shouldn’t be easy. We should be tested and we’re tested right now. If we have a championship spirit, which I think we do, if we’re able to go on, which I think we can, we got to go out and smack them around. We got to play.
“We try to show them in a positive way. You got to do it, guys. This is an important (game) and you got to do it. When we say you have to crack back on defense or you have to board or you have to come up with loose balls, we can’t tell you how, that comes from blood and guts and playing, all that.”
Harden finished with 43 points in Game 3, but only five assists. He had only 13 passes for potential assists, down from his season average of 21.5. Other players weren’t making shots.
“I didn't have a lot of opportunities,” said forward Ryan Anderson, who went 0-for-4 and finished with two points. “That's going to happen sometimes. Obviously they want to take me away from shooting. I have to do what I can to spread the court. I need to be aggressive, rebound the ball better. But there is going to be games where their attention is trying to take me out of shooting 3s. So, it just opens up spacing. That's why I'm here, for the space. Teams want to take me out of it, then that gives more space for James.”
However, Anderson is now 0-for-18 on 3-pointers at the Toyota Center in the playoffs.
Another problem might be that Harden is the only playmaker that the Rockets have and when his opportunities are limited, they wind up with shots that may look good, yet could be better.
“We just have to have our swagger and aggressiveness to go out there and finish the basketball,” Harden said. “We have more than enough guys in here to finish and create. We’ve been doing it all year long. So we just have to go out there and do it."
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