In the playoffs, there is little margin for error. Every play is magnified and the pressure is ratcheted to ridiculous proportions. It's the reason most coaches have, for as long as the NBA has been around, opted for short rotations once the postseason begins. Using 10 or 11 guys in the regular season may be all well and good in a game, but unless it's a blowout, teams routinely stick to 7 or 8 come playoff time.
Coach Mike D'Antoni has, like most other coaches, stuck with what worked, even if that meant running the few guys who got into the game ragged with his frenetic offensive style of play. He was criticized at different times throughout his career for not keeping his players both healthy and fresh. The deeper they got into the playoffs, the more the tendency to fade.
Of course, a lot of the blame can simply be laid at the feet of coaches trusting their best players. And why shouldn't they? When you have a pressure situation, you trust it to your stars. But, in 2019, something has happened. The Rockets have managed to expand their playoff rotations with very little drop off, which could bode well the deeper they go.
They have been afforded that luxury certainly thanks to large leads in both games against the Jazz, but there is more to it than that. In the third quarter of both games, it was the reserves who brought the energy and helped push the lead back to a healthy number. It has been the bench that has allowed both James Harden and Chris Paul to get rest and not have to carry the entire load.
Even more remarkably, all but one of the primary bench brigade joined the team this season.
Gerald Green has been getting regular minutes and contributing with his pell mell style of offensive play. But, the rest are new and only one, Danuel House, was added before the season.
House has been a unique marvel, a young player who has bounced around finally finding a home back home in Houston where he played for the University of Houston. His length, defense and stellar distance shooting has made him essentially the Rockets sixth man.
Then there is Austin Rivers and Kenneth Faried. This is the first season probably since the Rockets had Patrick Beverley and Kyle Lowry that they have had a very solid rotation at point guard with Rivers backing up Chris Paul. And Faried is a poor-man's Clint Capela with tons of energy and a knack for rebounding. Even Iman Shumpert gives the Rockets an experienced late-game defensive replacement to guard virtually any position on the floor.
That doesn't even account for Nene, who certainly has earned the trust of coaches to play minutes if needed and even Gary Clark, who started games early in the season and is an above average defender.
Even if Clark and Nene never see important minutes, Green, House, Rivers, Faried and Shumpert all have and will continue as long as the Rockets keep going. Having that kind of depth from their bench is invaluable and one of the reasons the Rockets are going to be a very difficult out this year.