After the Rockets’ thorough and convincing Game 1 win over the Lakers in the NBA’s belated Western Conference semifinals on Friday night, Lakers star LeBron James offered some thoughts about Houston and the seemingly lackluster effort on L.A.’s part—as well as an impressive comparison.
James said the Rockets’ speed was the big culprit for the Lakers’ subpar performance in the opener.
“They play with a lot of speed, both offensively and defensively,” James told reporters in his postgame press conference. “It’s like in the early 2000s, when the St. Louis Rams were The Greatest Show on Turf. People would always say how they’d scout them, and scout them, and scout them but until they got on the field, and they’d see Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt. Marshall Faulk, and Az Hakim, and all those guys. And they were like, ‘We need to play them again.’ Because there’s no way you can simulate that speed. Getting out on the floor and having a Game 1 will give you a good feel for it.”
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni took the comparison with a shrug. According to D’Antoni, James only had it half-right.
“It’s a nice compliment,” D’Antoni said. “I didn’t think we particularly played very fast last night to be totally honest. Defensively we did, we were flying around. But offensively we can up our speed a lot more. We will need to do that.”
Game 1 Was Slow by Houston Rockets Standards
The numbers back up D’Antoni. Friday’s game was not particularly fast by any stretch. The Rockets took 81 shots, which is not a pure measure of pace, but is an indication of the speed of a game. During the regular season, they took more field-goal attempts in 64 of the 72 games they played.
According to the NBA Stats pace figure, the game clocked in at 98 possessions. The Rockets averaged 104.04 possessions per 48 minutes this year. By their standards, the opener was not a fast-paced game. Houston, though, with its small lineups—featuring 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker at center—does rely on switching and creating deflections defensively, both of which require speed.
The Rockets scored only 9 points in eight attempts in the fast-break. The Lakers got into transition more, scoring 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said the Laker should not have much trouble adjusting to Houston’s pace of play.
“All that we can do different is just keep up with their pace,” he said on Saturday during the Lakers’ practice press conferences. “We are one of the fast-paced teams in this league as well. We got to get some guys back to help if we take shots, get some guys back to help slow them down so they don’t get those easy throw-aheads and layups. Really just play at our pace. Our pace is one of the best in the league. We just continue to do what we do as a team, just continue to move.”
LeBron James: ‘They’re Very, Extremely Fast’
James did say that while the speed which with the Rockets play might not show up in the game’s pace factor, it shows up in the number of batted balls they get. Houston forced 17 turnovers against the Lakers, turning those into 27 points.
Houston averages 13.8 deflections per game in the playoffs, tied for tops in the NBA.
“How do you adjust to a team’s speed?” James said. “You understand that it’s not just about the legs moving; it’s about the hands moving, as well. They’re great with their hands. You understand that if you have the turnover, you can’t really react. You have to get back, quick twitch. Quick-twitch plays, because they’re very, extremely fast.”
D’Antoni was unimpressed by the praise. He expects James, who was held to 20 points in Game 1 after scoring 34.7 points per game in the final three games of the Portland series, to recover quickly and attack thoroughly on Sunday.
“Again,” D’Antoni said, “take the compliment, it’s great. But he’ll be coming at us like a freight train (Sunday). We’ve got to make sure we are ready to roll.”