1 in 72,000 (0,001388%) – those are the odds of missing 27 straight three-pointers according to FiveThirtyEight, which used data from Second Spectrum and NBA Advanced Stats. You are more likely to get audited by the IRS (1 in 200), find a four-leaf clover (1 in 10,000), or bowl a perfect game (1 in 11,500). Two years ago, the Houston Rockets suffered a 1 in 72,000 event in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors.
It started with 6:13 left in the second quarter. Harden took a three over Draymond; it clunked off the rim. No one suspected the next time a Rockets player makes a three will be at 6:28 in the fourth quarter when P.J. Tucker finally ended the 27 shot drought. But, it would be the only three the team made since Harden’s miss in the second quarter. When asked about the game, Rockets GM Daryl Morey was quite zen.
“Basically, this year’s 0-for-27 was a makeup for Corey Brewer, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones hitting 3s against the Clippers. It was like the karma flipping. The three worst shooters in NBA history are (Charles) Barkley, Brewer, and Josh Smith. We had two of ’em.”Daryl Morey, Bill Simmons Podcast
In case you forgot, two years earlier, the Rockets staged a comeback against the Clippers in the 2015 playoffs. They were down 19 points with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter. Josh Smith and Corey Brewer had an out-of-body experience – Smith went 3-for-4 from deep, and Brewer went 2-for-3 in the court quarter, with Harden on the bench. (Keeping Harden on the bench was probably the main reason Kevin McHale got fired next year.)
This game became the main argument for everyone saying the Rockets’ extreme analytical approach makes them too one-dimensional. Adaptability is critical in the playoffs – you need a plan B (and often plan C). Morey and coach D’Antoni disagreed. Both said they were happy with the quality of the shots taken. D’Antoni was adamant not to repeat the mistake he did in Phoenix.
After the “7 seconds or less” Suns lost against the Spurs in the playoffs two years in a row, they took a step back from their philosophy and traded Shawn Marion and Markus Banks for Shaquille O’Neal. Both D’Antoni and Steve Nash agree that they should’ve done the opposite, and go all in. That’s what the Rockets did this year by trading Clint Capella and playing P.J. Tucker at the 5.
Most teams would say they shot too much. The Rockets decided they didn’t shoot enough. Whatever playoff format happens in Disney World, the Rocket’s small ball experiment will be one of the most exciting storylines to follow.