In what looked a lot like a replay of game six (at least for three quarters), the Rockets fell to the Golden State Warriors 101-92 in game seven of the Western Conference Finals at Toyota Center on Monday. The Rockets led by as much as 15 in the first half, but yet another brutal third quarter cost them as the Warriors will return to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season.
After racking up the best record in the league, mostly on a dominant offense, the Rockets were unable to crack 100 points in three straight games and shot miserably from beyond the arc, while missing point guard Chris Paul, who remained sidelined with a pulled hamstring.
While the Warriors move on, the Rockets pack it up for a long offseason of questions, most notably what they can do to improve and how to change their offense to be able to counteract rough shooting nights like in game three.
4. Trust in officiating.
For two straight games, the third quarter officiating has been rough to say the least. In both games, they were let off the hook to a degree by the Rockets struggles on offense, which cast a much larger shadow. But, tweets from players, fans and other notables were flying fast and furious as numerous calls went against the Rockets including a couple several blatant no-calls that seemed to turn the tide for the Warriors. The refs aren't why the Rockets lost, but they did help to change the game's momentum at a critical time.
3. Third quarter Rockets.
Even though the officiating in the quarter was questionable, the Rockets did nothing to fight back. They allowed Golden State to outscore them 33-15 as they flailed about offensively going 0-14 from three. It was an absolutely brutal performance against one of the best third quarter teams in the NBA and it was the difference in the game.
2. Home court advantage.
Last summer, would you have told the Rockets they would be at home for game seven against the Warriors, they would have immediately taken it. Their 65 wins, a franchise record, gave them home court advantage, but they were unable to capitalize, losing two games at home including the deciding one. It's a tough way to go out after such a promising season.
1. Three point shooting.
There is going to have to be a lot of critical discussion around the organization on whether taking 40-50 three pointers, particularly in a game where you are making 15 percent of them, is a good idea. As great as they were with that style of play in the offseason, it abandoned them in the Western Conference Finals, no more emphatically than an 0-27 stretch between the second and fourth quarters that set an NBA playoff record. Maybe more than the style of play is who is executing it and the Rockets just didn't have the shooters the Warriors do.
4. Defensive effort.
Both teams played remarkable defense these last three games. The Rockets, especially in the first half, were about as active as we have seen since maybe the Jeff Van Gundy era. It was the first game of the series where the team that lost the turnover battle won the game (27 missed threes will do that to you), as the Warriors were pushed out of their game by a tenacious Rockets D.
3. Third quarter Warriors.
Through game seven, the Rockets had been outscored by 50 points in the first six third quarters of the series. After game seven it was 67. The Rockets had no answer for the Warriors in the third quarter of most of their games this series and it was that quarter that propelled the Warriors to another NBA Finals appearance.
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2. Mother Nature
She's undefeated. When Chris Paul went down with a hamstring injury with less than a minute left in game five, the Rockets chances at a title went with him. The one thing the Rockets desperately needed in game seven was mid range shooting, the very thing Paul brought them. They could have used his steady hand handling the ball as well. Yet another missed opportunity for Paul, who has never been to the NBA Finals in his long and storied career.
1. Free agency?
If there is anything to look forward to, it is the fact that there will be some very significant names on the free agent market this offseason and the Rockets would appear to be a prime destination. Losing game seven stings, but if they net a big time rotation player over the summer, we'll get over it.