Offbeat 3-pointers: Takeaways from the Rockets' Game 7 loss

13:30  29 may  2018
13:30  29 may  2018 Source:   houstonchronicle.com

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It was a great season, though that offers little solace now. If anything, the excellence along the way made what could have been more apparent, the disappointment, and even the pain, likely deeper and more unrelenting.


The Rockets were right. They really were good enough to beat the Warriors. The best team of the 2017-18 season was at least in position to beat one of the best teams of any season. Good enough to have a chance was not good enough.

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The Rockets will be tormented by all that went wrong when they needed one more win. They will think about those initial second-half minutes in Game 6 when a few more plays could have prevented the tidal wave.

They will think about all those 3s, 27 straight, that they missed in a 24-minute stretch when they got the shots they want and could not make them.

Mostly, they will think about how Chris Paul, the player that joined them just for opportunities like these, had that chance at the Finals snatched away from the cruel timing of a hamstring injury with the Rockets on the brink.

It was a great season, but that made the defeat greatly disappointing. Mike D'Antoni called it "devastating." Gerald Green said it was "heartbreaking."

The Rockets spent the season not just wanting to be the team that upset the Warriors but believing they would be. Being worthy of that dream made the end that much more painful.

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1. The Rockets missed 27 straight 3-pointers and 29 of 30, but they did not lose because of their style or their system or for whatever reasons those that hate math will decry their offense.

They lost because they missed. They would have lost if they missed those shots from 20 feet or missed from 18 feet. Misses tend to count the same no matter the distance.

The Rockets are more likely to make wide-open 3s than they are to hit sort-of open jumpers from closer. With Chris Paul and his mid-range magic out, they don't have the option to do much more off the dribble than they did.

They have standstill catch-and-shoot gunners on the roster. That's what they do well. They did it very poorly in Game 7, but that does not they could have chosen to transform themselves into masters of jump hooks or Dream Shakes. With Paul out, they did not have the depth to sit Trevor Ariza as he went 0 for 12 or Gerald Green as he made 1 of 7 shots.

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So they kept playing and they kept missing. James Harden, who made 2 of 13 3s, took some contested 3s he should not have. He had a couple in which he seemed to be fouled in the act of shooting, even with the revised rules, that likely should have been considered shooting fouls, one that went in.

But even with Harden's misfiring from deep, he still got inside enough to make 10 of 16 shots inside the arc and to set up Clint Capela from many of his 20 points.

The Rockets had 56 points in the paint, matching their most in the series with the Game 2 rout, and that was without Chris Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute, a skilled finisher. They doubled the Warriors' paint scoring so the issue was not with the style, it was with the shooting.

The Warriors' collection of sharpshooters can and often do make shots no team has ever made as reliably. But the Rockets did not have to make the sorts of 3s Stephen Curry put in. They needed to make the sorts of shots they had made all season. When they could not, there was nowhere to turn.

2. The Rockets will likely forever believe they would have won the series if Chris Paul had been able to complete it. We'll never know.

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They would have undoubtedly been a better team with him than without. He had joined the Rockets just for nights like these. His ability to rise to occasions, as he had in Game 5 when the Rockets moved to within one win of the NBA Finals, demonstrated that. His mid-range game was desperately missed Monday, when the Rockets made just one shot that was not in the paint or from the 3-point line.

The Rockets cannot assume that they would have beaten the Warriors if Paul had not been taken out by a hamstring injury in the final minute of Game 5. They would have almost certainly been much tougher to beat. The Warriors might have elevated their game even further to do it.

The Rockets can only wonder, and that adds to the distress.

When much of the league believed that toppling the giant that the Warriors became when Kevin Durant joined a 73-win team was an impossible dream, the Rockets loaded up to take their run.

When they won 65 regular-season games, adding 11 playoff wins to collect more wins this season than any Rockets team ever has, they came to believe this would be their year and never doubted, even when Paul went out.

They won't know for sure what they would have done had Paul played, but they will still believe they would have beaten the Warriors.

Paul will have to deal with another incredibly agonizing bit of hard luck. After so many of his hopes had been dashed by injuries that either he or his teammates suffered, he went beyond any of his previous seasons and to the brink of a Finals he and the Rockets would have been favored to win.

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Instead, he was again left to consider what could have been.

He will be a free agent, still able to command a superstar's contract. The Rockets might want to consider Paul's injuries when they make their offer. But for all they can't know about what would have happened had he played, they will know how much better they were with him than without, likely the driving consideration as they rebuild their roster and their hopes.

3. The Rockets were too good of a team to have so many decisions facing them this summer, but that is how this team was constructed.

Of their usual rotations players, five – Clint Capela, Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and Gerald Green – are free agents. All will want to return. The Rockets were not just very good; they were very close.

Capela is a restricted free agent likely to get the kind of offer designed to scare the Rockets off. They likely will match any offer sheet he signs.

They nearly as certainly have already decided they want Paul back. It was clear again that they need him.

Mbah a Moute and Green might not command too much considering they did not in the past summer and this offseason will be even more crowded with coveted free agents.

Ariza could be more difficult to predict. The Rockets value everything he brings and he is a glue guy beyond the court. He is one of those guys that is close to everyone in the room and those relationships make him likely to want to return. But Ariza is 32, likely headed to his last big contract. With the league turning increasingly to the use of 3-and-D types, his strengths and his professionalism will likely draw plenty of interest.

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The Rockets won't want to take a step back. They came close enough to the Warriors to seek a way to take those final steps. Tilman Fertitta has repeatedly said he expects to keep his important players and to pay the enormous salaries and luxury taxes that will require.

Nothing can be certain in free agency. And the Rockets will likely have to seek ways to improve beyond having Paul and Mbah a Moute healthy at the right time. Getting better, however, will be difficult with the best team general manager Daryl Morey has ever had.

Ryan Anderson and Nene could barely get on the floor in the conference finals. There won't be much demand. The Rockets don't have young players pressing for playing time. They don't have their first round pick.

Changes will be difficult. Morey might be ready to work to keep his free agents, then return to the trade market he sat out last season. But making a 65-win team better could be as tough as getting this good was in the first place.

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