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Unconventional in the Mind

10/20/2009

A few days ago, Malcolm Gladwell published a story in The New Yorker called "How David Beats Goliath."

Different people took different things from that story -- to many it was nothing but an ode to the magic of the full-court press in basketball. To me the meta-message was: If you're clearly outmatched, a conventional strategy is clearly a bad strategy. Thinking outside the box is a must for severe underdogs.

The Rockets were arguably outmatched against the Lakers when fully healthy. Now they are without an All-Star wing man and their two centers. 

So, are they embracing Gladwell's lessons?

On the surface, they are being unconventional in starting one of the smallest lineups in NBA playoff history. But they didn't really have any choice on that matter, owing to all the injured big men, so who's to say if that's a strategy or not.

But where I really do see the Rockets doing something unconventional is in their mental approach. Before Game 4, my friend Max pointed out, the Lakers were talking about playing their game and all those regular things that players say. 

Luis Scola said that he didn't even care if they won. He just wanted to play his best. 

Max points out that's kind of like saying "it's a good day to die." That's a scary kind of opponent to face.

Then the Rockets came out taking the first good shot they could find on every possession, which caught the Lakers on their heels. 

Before Game 5, Kevin Arnovitz tells us that the Rockets could not have been more enthusiastic. Aaron Brooks used the word "fun" ten times in four minutes. This from a player who had never won a playoff series before last week, on a team riddled with injuries, facing a road game against the team a lot of people pick to win it all. 

Fun? Seems to me that the Rockets may not be using a full-court press. But their approach is nonetheless admirably unconventional, just as it should be.

UPDATE: Rockets.com teaches us that thanks to Mike Krzyzewski, Shane Battier has some experience with unconventional tactics.