If you add Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute to your team you can expect some defensive improvement. Even if you did lose Patrick Beverly.
No matter what defensive stalwarts you have, starting your season against Golden State really sets you up to fail. You can’t exactly say Houston succeeded in stopping the Warriors, but they didn’t fail either.
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Against the defending champs, it’s all about containment and limiting the damage. Houston’s offense can score at roughly the same rate as Golden State’s; the Warriors edged them last season 116 PPG to 115. With that potent an offense, you don’t have to try to be the ‘04 Pistons on D. Just do enough to give your offense a chance. That’s what Houston did Tuesday night.
Golden State scored 121 points, 5 above last season, while Houston managed 122. Despite noted defender Chris Paul hobbled and eventually leaving the game, Houston took advantage of Draymond Green also leaving the game. Check out the Warriors’ shot chart in the 4th:
With Draymond out, Houston mostly shifted into “nobody scores but Steph” mode. This is containment. Steph doesn’t like to play that way, you see. He was clearly getting uncomfortable. Ten of those 18 4th quarter shots were his and all of them, plus his teammates’, were closely contested. That includes the final contest from Harden forcing Kevin Durant to shuffle one more step sideways, ensuring his shot wouldn’t beat the buzzer.
The Warriors normally make the game look easy, that 4th quarter was a struggle. Houston’s defense made it that way, and won the game because of it.
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No one will give you any medals for beating the Kings by 5 points, but Houston did just that in another solid performance in their second game. It came just one night after running around with the Warriors then traveling up north to Sacramento. Despite certain fatigue, the Kings shot below average with an Offensive Rating just under 99, or ten points below Golden State’s 109 the night before.
The gap between those teams is obviously Bering Strait-like, but Sacramento leans much closer to mediocre than bad this season. The Kings managed only 19 assists while turning the ball over 17 times. They were sufficiently stifled by the Rockets all game.
All of that without defensive anchor CP3, who sat out with a bruised knee.
A bad or mediocre defense might have phoned that game in, Houston’s didn’t. That doesn’t automatically mean Mike D’Antoni’s team has a good defense all of a sudden. But it might mean that they care a little more this season.
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I may be fooled by a small sample size and an unexpected upset of the best team in the league, but the Rockets are here for real. With their new additions and improved on-court demeanor, it looks like they truly believe they can take on Golden State when it matters most. They may have already tricked me into starting to believe it, too.