HOUSTON -- Coach Mike D'Antoni emphasized that the Houston Rockets need to ignore "the noise" regarding their isolation-heavy offense after their Game 1 loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals.
The Rockets were the NBA's best isolation team while earning the league's best record during the regular season. According to NBA.com statistics, the Rockets led the league by a large margin in possessions finished with isolations (1,280, 321 more than any other team) and produced 1.12 points per possession off those plays; they were only team in the league better than 1.0 points per iso.
Houston's offensive strategy, however, was criticized by members of TNT's postgame show and others after Monday night's 119-106 loss.
"It's like, 'Oh my gosh, they iso! That's all they do.' No, it isn't," D'Antoni said before Tuesday's practice. "That's what we do best. We scored like 60 percent of the time on it. It's like, no, really? Like, 'Oh, they don't pass. Everybody stands.' Really? Have you watched us for 82 games?
"That's what we do. We are who we are, and we're pretty good at it. And we can't get off who we are. Embrace it. Just be better at who we are and don't worry about if somebody else solves the puzzle a different way."
Even by the Rockets' standards, they ran an extreme amount of isolation in Game 1. According to Second Spectrum, the Rockets had 45 total isolations (not all plays finished), which was five more than Houston had in any game this season and more than any team ran in a game over the past five seasons.
As he did all season, MVP front-runner James Harden thrived in isolation during his 41-point Game 1 performance. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Harden scored 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting with two fouls drawn and one turnover on isolations.
"That was our best thing we had. I don't know why it's bad," D'Antoni said. "I told them, perception is not reality. Reality are numbers. Numbers are, that's good. Numbers are, yeah, we had a couple of 24-second violations and everybody goes, 'Ohhh!' They go crazy, and our guys do sometimes. We can't do that. We can't do that. Yeah, it's going to happen. We're not going to be perfect, but the numbers show that that's pretty good.
"Now, having said that ... we've got to get into transition, we've got to get Trevor [Ariza] and those guys shots, we've got to get the ball moved up quicker. And we can do that. We control that."
Harden was effective as a scorer, but the Warriors were able to prevent him from creating 3-point looks for teammates. Harden had seven assists, all of which were feeds for dunks or layups. Teammates attempted only two 3s off his passes. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Harden averaged 3.3 assists for 3s during the regular season.
D'Antoni cited mental mistakes on defense as the Rockets' primary concern after Game 1. Harden agreed, saying that the Rockets need to defend better in order to push the pace and avoid grinding out so many offensive possessions.
But D'Antoni, Harden and point guard Chris Paul dismissed the idea that the Rockets relied too heavily on isolations when they played half-court offense.
"That's what we do," Harden said. "That's what we've been doing all year long. We went literally two months and I think maybe lost a game or two by doing what we do. So it won't change. We've just got to do it better."
Added Paul: "We got here playing the way that we play, and we've just got to be us. We are who we are. We got here with 65 wins, so at the end of the day, I think we're going to be who we are. That's my answer to that."