Rockets vs. Thunder adjustments: James Harden shouldn't settle

Scott Halleran

Thabo Sefolosha did a great job of defending James Harden in Game 3, forcing Houston's top offensive option to shoot just 40 percent. Harden has to be more aggressive driving to the basket if the Rockets want to avoid getting swept.

The Houston Rockets are one loss away from being swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder. In Game 3, James Harden went 9-for-22 from the field for 30 points, but Thabo Sefolosha disrupted Harden's offensive game one-on-one throughout the night and the Rockets were unable to open the floor for their primary offensive threat.

For Houston to avoid being swept, Harden must not settle in isolation and use his dribble penetration to create offense. He was effective around the rim, making seven of his nine field goal attempts in the restricted area, but in isolation sets, Harden missed eight of his nine jumpers. (via MySynergySports.com)

Play No. 1

Harden cuts baseline, but Sefolosha stays with him. Omer Asik sets a screen for Harden, but Sefolosha slides over the top and recovers.

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Sefolosha did a great job of staying with the play and keeping his head up on defense. Sefolosha isn't giving Harden space to get comfortable with the ball, even when the Rockets are running off-ball plays for him.

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Harden takes the ball on the perimeter and drives to the paint, but Sefolosha shifts his feet and doesn't commit the foul, forcing Harden to kick out.

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It's another instance of Sefolosha making a solid defensive play by moving his feet and shading Harden into his teammates.

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When Harden creates space off dribble penetration, the perimeter players for Houston need to be ready to catch and shoot. Harden is being stopped in isolation, but Oklahoma City has shown a tendency to overcommit to cutting him off.

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Later in this play, Harden receives the ball on the wing, and he forces an isolation jumper against Sefolosha. As soon as Harden touches the ball, Sefolosha crowds him and contests the shot well.

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Play No. 2

The Rockets run a pick and roll with Jeremy Lin and Harden that forces a switch.

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Derek Fisher and Sefolosha rotate on the screen.

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The Rockets isolate what should be a mismatch.

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Harden should drive when he has an advantage on his defender. Sefolosha isn't giving Harden space on defense, but Fisher should not be able to slide his feet and stay in front of Harden. If the Thunder rotate to help, the Rockets have three-point shooters ready for kick-out passes.

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Instead, Harden settles for a jumper.

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Play No. 3

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Harden has to take advantage of plays when he has a defensive mismatch because Sefolosha has great foot and recovery speed. Even if Harden creates space, Sefolosha can contest the jumper.

Play No. 4

The Rockets will again force the Thunder to switch Fisher onto Harden.

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The Rockets clear out for Harden.

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Fisher makes a great play on the ball, but Harden has to do more when he has Fisher one-on-one. If Harden can't take advantage of Fisher, and Sefolosha is locking him down otherwise, then Houston's offensive options with Harden are limited.

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Play No. 5

Here's what Harden should do against the Thunder's overloading defense. If the Thunder pack the paint when Harden is driving, he should trust his open shooters.

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Harden draws the defense into the paint, which gives Chandler Parsons a clean look.

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Durant is caught ball-watching and Parsons hits the open jumper.

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This is how Harden must attack Oklahoma City's defense.

***

The defensive presence of Sefolosha has nullified Harden's effectiveness in this series. Harden can't force the issue against great isolation and team defense. Even if he isn't able to take shots, he can create space for his teammates and draw fouls if he fully commits to driving. If he settles for jumpers, though, he will continue to be ineffective.

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