The biggest concern about the Rockets' radical strategy came back to haunt them at the worst possible time

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Houston Rockets’ 3-point-centric offence helped them to the top seed in the Western Conference — but the team went cold in its biggest game in the season and gifted the Golden State Warriors a trip to the NBA Finals.
  • The Golden State Warriors on Monday defeated the Houston Rockets, 101-92, in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to earn a shot at the NBA title.
  • The game turned in the Warriors’ favour after Rockets 3-point-shooting collapsed in the second half; Houston missed an astounding 27 straight shots from beyond the arc.
  • The Rockets had relied on their shooting from distance all year to earn the top seed in the Western Conference, but their hot hand went cold at the worst possible time, and it cost them their season.

The Golden State Warriors on Monday defeated the Houston Rockets, 101-92, in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to punch their ticket to a fourth consecutive meeting with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

At first it felt like the Rockets might be able to knock off the NBA’s Goliath – taking a 54-43 lead into halftime after the Warriors came out looking in disarray.

But Golden State Warriors once again found their third-quarter magic, outscoring Houston, 33-15, out of the break to take a lead they’d never give up. It was the largest halftime deficit ever overcome by a road team in a Game 7.

What changed for the Rockets was easy to diagnose, and a product of the strategy that made them the winningest team in basketball this year: They went cold from beyond the arc.

The saying “Live by the 3, die by the 3” is familiar to NBA fans, and for the entire season the Rockets thrived on 3’s.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had previously outlined a strategy for creating a team that could challenge Golden State in an interview with SiriusXM NBA radio.

“We want to win the title, and obviously that’s probably going through the Warriors at some point,” Morey said. “And we absolutely figured the only way we’re gonna beat ’em is with a barrage of 3-pointers, and it’s probably going to be a 124-120 affair if we’re going to get past them.”

All year, it looked like the strategy would work. The Rockets rode their shooting to the top seed in the West and a 2-1 regular-season record against the Warriors. Their performance earned them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, and when they worked the Western Conference Finals to a Game 7 at home, their shooting needed to hold for just one more game to give them a shot at a title.

Instead, everything fell apart.

The Rockets shot a staggering 7-for-44 from beyond the arc, just 15.9% for a team that shot 36.2% through the regular season and 35% through the postseason. At one point, the Rockets missed an inconceivable 27 consecutive 3-point shots, including going 0-for-14 in the third quarter.

The shot chart tells the whole story.

Rockets shot chartESPNThe Houston Rockets collapse in the third quarter will be a tough one for the team to shake off.

There’s a special tragedy to the Rockets’ downfall here. They executed their strategy to perfection – the team’s gameplan all season was to take high-value shots and outscore and outpace their opponents, and it was all done with the singular goal of taking down the Warriors and taking home an NBA title. But in the final 24 minutes of their season, the whole plan collapsed around them.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell said – with admittedly back-of-the-envelope maths – that the streak of 27 consecutive misses was a real anomaly.

When you play the percentages, they work in your favour in the long run, but for short stretches, a bad streak of luck can eat you alive. For the Rockets, that cold streak hit at the worst possible time, and cost them their season.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni would admit as much while speaking with reporters after the game. “It’s a make or miss league,” D’Antoni said. “They made them; we didn’t.”

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