2020 Playoffs | West Semifinals: (1) Lakers vs. (4) Rockets

Rockets to lean on past 3-1 series deficit experience

Mike D'Antoni knows about rallying from big deficit, stunning the Lakers in 2006 while he coached Suns

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Mike D’Antoni expects to sleep well in his room at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa ahead of Saturday’s Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals (8 ET, ESPN) with his team down 3-1 on the brink of elimination.

“I will be sleeping tonight with the knowledge that, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna do it,’” D’Antoni said. “Now, there is another team that’s really good. We’ll see how it goes. But they should get our best shot. If it’s good enough, then we’ll go to the next game after that.”

The Rockets are 2-10 all time when trailing 3-1 in a series. So, when the team met ahead of Friday’s practice session, it spent plenty of time discussing its experience with 3-1 series deficits.

The Lakers own a record of 35-1 all time when leading a series 3-1. But it was D’Antoni and the Phoenix Suns that handed Los Angeles its only loss (2006) with a 3-1 lead, and eventually won that series. James Harden, meanwhile, helped Houston rebound from a 3-1 deficit to the Los Angeles Clippers that featured Rockets reserve Austin Rivers in the 2015 Western Conference semifinals to advance to the conference finals.

“There’s a lot of guys that when we had our meeting that were in the room that have come down from 3-1 and have won,” D’Antoni said. “I did it in Phoenix against the Lakers. James did it against the Clippers. So, they’ve done it. Denver just now did it against Utah. So, yeah, it’s a one-game series. We’ve got to play to win one game. Then, the one thing we talked about [is] we want to give them our best shot. If our best shot’s not good enough, so be it. But we have not given in the three losses our best shot. We need to get back to that.”

It certainly won’t be easy.

Despite the 110-100 score in Game 4, the Los Angeles Lakers churned out their most dominating performance of the series in that contest they led by as many as 23 points and never trailed. The Lakers limited Houston’s top scorer Harden to a 2-for-11 shooting night, while feasting off the contributions of six double-figure scorers. They outscored Houston 62-24 in the paint, 19-2 on the break, and 17-3 in second-chance points.

Los Angeles even held the speedy Rockets to zero fast break points and zero second-chance points through the first three quarters of Game 4, which registered as a first in any playoff games since 1997, the start of the play-by-play era.

Rockets center P.J. Tucker admitted the difficulty in trying to summon the tenacity Saturday needed to rebound from a 3-1 series deficit after experiencing such a deflating loss in Game 4.

“That’s the tough thing. I think that’s the thing that a lot of teams fight with in these situations,” Tucker said. “For us, it’s just to get that feeling back, especially from Game 1 and even spurts of Game 2, where we just honestly played the way we play. I feel like the last two games, we haven’t played Rockets basketball. That’s the biggest thing: to get back to Rockets basketball. We’re not getting enough possessions, we’re not getting up enough 3’s, we’re not playing as fast as we normally do. Part of that is we’re taking the ball out a lot of times. But for us, we’ve still got to pick our pace up and play with a lot more energy. The ball has to find ways to move better and get more 3’s up. But that’s got to come from our defense. From being down 2-1 to 3-1, there’s no difference. You still have the same mindset. It’s the playoffs. Every single game matters, every game counts, every possession counts. There’s desperation throughout the entire time.”

There’s a lot of guys that when we had our meeting that were in the room that have come down from 3-1 and have won

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni

Especially now with the Rockets sitting at somewhat of a crossroads.

D’Antoni is in the final year of his contract, and Houston’s two brightest stars — Harden and Russell Westbrook — are now on the wrong side of 30. Surely, there might also be some second guessing concerning what Houston gave up (two first-round picks, two swaps) to land Westbrook, not to mention how the team’s decision to go all-in on small ball might affect the team’s roster if the Rockets decide moving forward to play a more conventional style.

Houston figures it can worry about all that later, as it chooses to concentrate energy on breaking the team’s first three-game postseason losing streak under D’Antoni.

“The series isn’t over yet,” Rivers said. “We just saw the Utah and Denver series. I’ve been up 3-1 before versus Houston when I played for the Clippers. It happens, man. So, it’s tough. It’s going to be hard. They’re a great team. But we believe if we make the adjustments that we need to make, if we execute them, we still have a shot. It’s gonna take a lot of effort. It’s not going to be perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. If we keep playing, we still believe that we’re the better team. But we’ve got to go out there and prove that because right now, they’ve been the better team.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here , find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

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