LOS ANGELES — If you’re not around Mike D’Antoni all the time, then his words hit you like something out of an NBA version of Saturday Night Live.
If you forget for a moment that his Houston Rockets are ground zero for the NBA’s three-point movement, that team owner Les Alexander and general manager Daryl Morey went out last summer and hired this 65-year-old kid for their Fire Away candy store, then you do a double take when he starts spewing that crazy talk that, as it turns out, isn’t so silly after all.
“Is there such a thing as too many three-point attempts in a game?” he was asked on Wednesday morning, hours before his Rockets dominated the Clippers 122-103 at the Staples Center.
D’Antoni, without an ounce of shame in his voice, replied like a man whose team is well on its way to shattering the league’s record for three-point attempts and makes in a single season.
“Well, we’ll see,” said D'Antoni, the former Phoenix Suns mastermind who is enjoying a renaissance with the Rockets after failed stops with the Knicks and Lakers. “You know, I don’t know. It just seems like the more we (take), the better we play. So, so far I don’t think we’ve hit that limit.”
The win over the Clippers was no different.
In a game that was worth watching from the psychological standpoint, with two of the better teams in the Western Conference well aware that the knee injury to Golden State’s Kevin Durant could up their odds of title contention, the Rockets (43-19) were hungry for a power shift and the Clippers continued to confound (they’re 36-24, with losses to the Warriors, second-place San Antonio and the Rockets since the All-Star break). And by hitting 20 of 52 three-pointers along the way, with Ryan Anderson (six threes), James Harden (four), Patrick Beverley (four), and Eric Gordon (three) doing most of the damage, the Rockets continued their historic pace from beyond the arc.
At this rate, with these Rockets (2,514 attempts and 912 makes) on pace to eviscerate the new gold standards set by last season’s Golden State Warriors (2,592 and 1,077), their new age philosophy is panning out in a major way to this point. The Boston Celtics are a distant second in attempts (2,025), while the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers are second in makes (771). It all makes for an interesting backdrop six weeks from now, when the many critics of their extreme style will be watching and wondering if it pays off in the playoffs.
Imagine if Lou Williams had played well again.
In the first three games after the Rockets traded for the former Lakers gunner, they averaged 51.3 three-point attempts per game and sparked questions about this ceiling that just keeps getting higher. To that point in the season, the Rockets had averaged 39.8 attempts. But Williams, as D’Antoni had explained, gave them a chance to overwhelm their opponents with long-range offense in ways that we’ve never seen. Williams, who hit 14 of 28 threes in his first three games with the Rockets, had just one three-pointer in seven attempts against the Clippers.
“You know, I really don’t ever look at how many threes we take,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t know. I (may) look because I’m curious, but not because, ‘Oh shoot, we got 50 (three-point attempts). That’s too many. Oh shoot, we’ve got 20, that’s not enough.’
“Nah, I just look at it (and decide) each play, did we do the right thing? Are the guys in the right spots? (Are) we taking 20 threes because we’re not getting to our spots or were we like passing up shots. That, I look at, and say ‘Ok, we took 70 threes, and we forced about 10 and we just flung ‘em up. Well yeah, we don’t want to do that…If they’re good shots that come out of the context of what we’re doing, I don’t know if there’s a limit or not, to answer your question.”
Said Anderson, who is seventh in the NBA in three-point attempts (Harden is second, while Gordon is third): “You don’t realize how many three-pointers we are taking because it’s so natural for the way we play. It’s fun basketball when you trust that the next guy is going to make the shot.”