With the referendum surrounding the Rockets’ style of play in the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the merits of the arguments. Houston’s efficiency in isolation doesn’t serve as sufficiently compelling to its detractors; it seems the aesthetics of the stagnation are most folks’ primary gripe. Basketball is a beautiful flowing game with beautiful flowing motions which the Golden State Warriors have made us all see. The Houston Rockets are dragging us back to the dark days of the 90’s. Or so its being said.
I’ve wondered myself though, for many years actually, why teams, even those who institute motion in their regular gameplans, almost invariably resort to isolation in the closing minutes of games. Is there some sort of human element at play? The Rockets of course go iso at the end of games, to no surprise because they iso the entire game. And I think this past series proved why that’s the right call.
The Warriors employ the greatest collection of talent in NBA history, but we saw them tighten up and commit errors repeatedly in this series, particularly during the three Houston wins. I submit that were it not for Chris Paul’s injury, isoball would have won out not only on the scoreboard, but ideologically as well. It wasn’t some failure in the Rockets’ strategy which led to the loss. It was the fact that James Harden, gassed from carrying the offense by himself, had nothing left in the fourth. This would not have been the case were it not for the improbable injury to Paul. Houston’s system mitigates risk by reducing the overall number of passes and keeping the ball in the hands of its best players for a maximum amount of time. Golden State plays in the opposite manner. While we’ve seen over the past few years that such high variability is what fuels the Warriors’ potency, we saw last week, (shockingly at least to me), it can also make them vulnerable against a worthy opponent. Even the best players in the world get nerves in winning time.
It’s a shame Paul went down, not just for the on-court happenings but also for the philosophical debate.