The Rockets in the clutch

Friday night’s affair against the Grizzlies featured a familiar theme with the Rockets sputtering down the stretch.  This season, in the last minute of games within 5 points, the team is shooting 29%, good for 25th in the league.  Conversely, the team shoots 46% overall, good for 10th in the league.

It’s obvious that the team’s shooting would dip during these situations – the game gets tighter and defenses are more locked in.  But the fact that there is such a drastic disparity in the figures in comparison to their peers is certainly cause for concern.  You would expect them to drop below 46% but to a figure in ratio with that tenth best ranking.

What’s going wrong?  As we’ve seen too often, down the stretch in close games, the Rockets abandon their set offense and turn to ISO-ball, looking to James Harden to jack up contested jumpers off of one foot.  Is this by design?

Teams often want to minimize risk in these situations by keeping the ball in the hands of the best player.  The thinking goes that if there are too many passes, and the ball is being distributed amongst lesser players, there is a greater chance of something bad happening.  But is this really applicable?

It would be one thing if the Rockets were running the Princeton offense with all 5 players expected to cooperate in complex read-and-react motions/cuts.  But their traditional offense is a simple high screen and roll.  Is there greater risk in Omer Asik bobbling a pass off the roll than there is off Harden missing a contested stepback ‘3’?  (Actually don’t answer that – we may have our answer there as to why the team doesn’t run the pick&roll and why Dwight Howard would be such a significant upgrade…)

But in seriousness, if the fear is of teams trapping Harden and forcing the pass to Asik, why not just run a Lin/Harden pick&roll or Harden/Parsons?  I would think any situation leading to ball movement would be more efficient than a contested jumper.

The Rockets won’t fix this problem before the postseason because it’s probably too late.  But if they lose any close games in the first round due to their stagnant late-game offense, hopefully the front office will have a meeting with the coaching staff to discuss next year’s strategy.  You know the former for sure is aware of this problem.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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