Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has an interesting view of how the Western Conference Finals are unfolding.
According to D’Antoni, all the pressure is on the Golden State Warriors for Game 4 — not his Rockets, who are down 2-1 in the series.
Mike D'Antoni on Game 4: "Right now, to me, Golden State has all the pressure. They got to win tomorrow night. We should come in with a little bit of swagger and gitty up in our game."
— Logan Murdock (@loganmmurdock) May 21, 2018
It seems like some mind games are at play here. If the Rockets lose Game 4, they’ll be facing the daunting prospect of winning three in a row against Golden State, including one at Oracle Arena. The Warriors have proven they can win in Houston, but the Rockets have yet to show they can win in the Bay Area. Make no mistake, the Warriors won’t be underestimating Houston, but it’s the Rockets who are facing the prospect of a season-ending loss if they can’t take Game 4.
Mike D’Antoni called out his team for playing “soft” during Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.
D’Antoni’s Houston Rockets were destroyed 126-85 in the game. They were blown out in the second half, getting outscored by 10 in the third quarter and 20 in the fourth.
“We played soft actually,” D’Antoni said after the game. “You can’t do that against these guys.”
— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) May 21, 2018
A big issue was James Harden on defense. Much like the way the Rockets targeted Steph Curry in Game 2, the Warriors went after Harden in Game 3. The Warriors were 8-of-14 against Harden, according to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, including this play where he got embarrassed by Shaun Livingston.
Houston better come out ready to play in Game 4 otherwise this series will be over. Golden State leads 2-1.
The Western Conference Finals are shifting to Oracle Arena, the home of the Golden State Warriors, for Game 3.
Golden State is, naturally, very tough at home. They haven’t lost at Oracle this postseason, and they’ve only lost five games there since the start of the 2015 playoffs. Their last playoff home defeat was nearly two years ago, when the Cleveland Cavaliers won there in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
Why is it so tough to play the Warriors at home? Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has a very simple explanation.
Mike D'Antoni: "Is Oracle a hard place to play? Yeah because the Warriors play here." Touche
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) May 20, 2018
The Warriors have to keep home court, as they have some issues. That said, their Game 1 win ensured that they’ve stolen home court, and will be back in the NBA Finals if they hold serve at home against Houston.
James Harden had a pretty awesome scoring night for the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Monday, but it wasn’t enough as Golden State won comfortably 119-106. The margin of defeat led Mike D’Antoni to crack a joke in his postgame.
“I’m just gonna go tell him that he needs to get 55 next time,” D’Antoni joked.
Mike D'Antoni on James Harden: "I'm just gonna go tell him that he needs to get 55 next time."
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) May 15, 2018
Harden scored 41 in the game, going 14 of 24 from the field and 8 of 10 at the line. He still was a -7 in the plus-minus category because the Warriors were so good.
If Harden needs to average 55 points a game for the Rockets to beat the Warriors in a series, they’re in a lot of trouble. They’re not going to win much if Luc Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker (0-for-9) can’t make a shot.
Mike D’Antoni has coached a lot of very good players during his years in the NBA, but it is quite clear that James Harden is his favorite. If you don’t believe us, just ask D’Antoni’s wife.
Laurel D’Antoni spoke with Howard Beck for a lengthy Bleacher Report feature about the way her husband’s coaching style and offensive system have evolved, and Mrs. D’Antoni says a lot of the change is a result of how much her husband has fallen in love with Harden. In fact, the infatuation runs so deep that she sounds a bit envious.
“He’s just morphed because of his players. My husband is in looove with James Harden,” Laurel said. “I mean, I would like to have a little bit of that love that he’s giving James Harden in my household. But I understand why. Because Mike said he’s the best offensive player he’s ever, ever, ever coached.”
The system D’Antoni is running in Houston is a lot different from the one he ran when he had so much success with the Phoenix Suns. That’s because he has such talented players like Harden and Chris Paul, and they find a way to put points up in bunches by creating good looks.
“As long as it works, feels good, you can do anything you wanna do,” D’Antoni says of his mindset with the Rockets.
Ironically, the system the Warriors employ is a lot more like D’Antoni’s old system. While he and Golden State coach Steve Kerr have traded some friendly jabs this year, the level of mutual respect between the two is extremely high. If D’Antoni’s “new” offense fails to find success against the Warriors, he’ll almost be getting beat at his own game.
As for D’Antoni’s love affair with Harden, who knows how deep things will get if the Rockets manage to win a title. Laurel is probably bracing herself for that already.
The Houston Rockets may be the top seed in the Western Conference and up 2-1 in their first round series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but that doesn’t mean coach Mike D’Antoni is happy.
D’Antoni thinks the Rockets haven’t played at their best in “months” and are lacking rhythm as they start their playoff run.
“I’d say [the past] couple months we haven’t played really well,” D’Antoni said Sunday, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN. “That’s why I was worried the whole time about resting guys, doing this, getting out of rhythm. [People say], ‘It doesn’t really mean a whole lot.’ Ehhhh, it does.
“Anyway, we are where we are. We’ll be fine. We’ll be OK.”
It may seem harsh, but guard James Harden didn’t dispute the assessment, agreeing that the team hasn’t been in rhythm for a while.
“It’s been a long time,” Harden said. “It’s been a long time, but tomorrow is the perfect opportunity for it.”
The Rockets have had lofty ambitions for quite some time now. D’Antoni is going to keep pushing them to be better, even though they remain in good shape in their playoff series.
The Houston Rockets continue to show that they have much bigger goals on their mind than the regular season.
The Rockets beat the New Orleans Pelicans 114-91 on Saturday to improve to 59-14 on the season. The 59th win set a franchise record for victories in a season, surpassing the 58 wins by the ’93-’94 team that won the Finals. Just like that team, this one has a championship on its mind.
Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said after the win that his players didn’t seem to care about setting the record, which was pleasing to the coach.
Mike D'Antoni on the Rockets getting a franchise-record 59 wins: "I just told them. They didn't care. I'm kind of happy. I thought it was nice. They absolutely did not care."
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) March 25, 2018
Not only is Houston rolling this season with nine games left in the regular season, but things seem to be shaping up well for them. Their biggest competition in the conference — the two-time defending champion Warriors — are banged up with several top players injured. In the East, Kyrie Irving is out for the Celtics after undergoing a procedure on his knee. You get the feeling that the Rockets believe this will be their year.