Mike D’Antoni’s default move in the face of adversity is to go smaller.
So with Nene out for the rest of the playoffs and his rotations thrown off, the Houston Rockets’ coach is taking Eric Gordon off the bench and starting him in Game 5 against San Antonio. Ryan Anderson will lose his starting spot and become the backup center.
What Popovich is doing for Game 5 is moving Patty Mills into the starting lineup. Dejounte Murray played about as well as could be expected once Tony Parker went out, but this move was destined to happen.
I like starting Gordon for Houston. D’Antoni started the second half of Game 4 with that lineup — Patrick Beverly, James Harden, Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capella — and it was +14 in a little over six minutes of court time. D’Antoni experimented with some Ryan Anderson at center lineups and combined they were +1. Overall, going smaller made it hard for the Spurs to go with what had worked for them, keeping Pau Gasol in the paint under the basket to take away drives, allowing the other defenders to be more aggressive on the perimeter.
The moves comes with risks, too. For one, James Harden will have to take on either Pau Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge (because they don’t want to take Trevor Ariza off of Kawhi Leonard). Look for the Spurs to try to exploit that matchup.
Then there is the foul risk, as D’Antoni told Jonathan Feigin of the Houston Chronicle.
“The biggest thing, if Clint would get in (foul) trouble, or you get quick fouls on somebody, you don’t really have (off the bench) what we want to get to,” D’Antoni said of the decision to bring Anderson off the bench.
Despite the risks, this is the way the Rockets have to go. It allows them to run, and if the threes are falling it will force Gregg Popovich to match the small lineups, something he has the players to do but has been loath to do.