The defending champions Golden State Warriors made their statement in Game 1. Now they can take command of the series with another road win in Game 2.
The Warriors entered the 2018 Western Conference Finals with 13 consecutive Game 1s played at their home court. But after a 2017-18 season that saw them struggling at the end of the regular season with injuries to key players, most notably two time MVP Stephen Curry, the Warriors did not finish with the NBA’s best record for the first time in the Steve Kerr era.
The Houston Rockets were the best team in the NBA during the regular season. The Rockets won a franchise-best 65 games this year and with James Harden having another MVP type season, Houston looked like they were ready to beat the Warriors in the playoffs. After all, wasn’t the team supposed to be built to beat the Dubs?
The Rockets learned in Game 1 that beating the Warriors is easier said than done. Not that they didn’t know though because Golden State eliminated the Rockets from the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. But this year was supposed to be different. Houston had the guns to outshoot the Warriors. But they came out empty in Game 1.
Now they must fight to keep their title aspirations alive. Down 0-1, the Rockets cannot allow the Warriors to go up 2-0 especially with the first two games of the series played in Houston. In the history of the NBA playoffs, teams down 0-2 only have a 19-278 record of winning the series. Now that’s just a slim 6.39% chance the Rockets don’t want to take.
Houston though takes solace in the fact that in the history of the league, teams who won at least 65 games during the regular season are 50-4 in playoff series including 15-2 in Conference Finals play. But they can’t just rely on history. Their backs are against the proverbial wall. It’s only Game 2 but it may very well be do or die for the Houston Rockets.
The main focus for the Rockets should be stopping Kevin Durant. But since Durant is virtually unstoppable, the Rockets must find a way to limit his production. KD scored 37 points on 14-27 shooting from the floor. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Durant shot 10-13 from isolation plays and scored 27 points going one on one.
The Warriors dominate with ball movement not isolation but given that Houston doesn’t have anybody who can defend Durant ( who does, anyway? ), Steve Kerr kept on feeding Durant the leather, especially when they needed to kill a Rockets rally. For the Rockets to have a chance at beating the Dubs, KD must be their priority.
But Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni brushed that aside, saying Durant isn’t their concern. Rather, D’Antoni pointed at turnovers, missed layups and Klay Thompson getting off 15 three pointers as his team’s issues in Game 1. Those too are valid concerns for the Rockets but to say that Durant isn’t a problem may be a flawed statement. Remember that it wa Durant who almost single handedly beat the Cavs in last year’s NBA Finals.
James Harden had his third straight 40 point Game 1 of the current postseason, making him the first player in NBA history to to score 40 points in the Game 1s of the first three rounds of a single playoffs. Harden went 14-24 from the field and 5-9 from behind the three point line, easily his best shooting game since Game 1 of the first round.
But like Durant, most of Harden’s point production came on isolation plays. He was 9-12 with 25 points on one on one plays. That’s as impressive but that was what the Warriors defense gave him. What the Dubs prevented though was letting him create three point looks for his shooters. That hurt the Rockets.
DUring the regular season, Harden averaged 3.3 assists per game on three point baskets. He had none in Game 1. As a result, Luc Mbah Moute and P.J. Tucker who averaged a combined 30 points per game during the Rockets’ two wins over Golden State during the regular season, combined for just one point in Game 1 and just a total of four three point attempts, all of which they missed. For Houston to bounce back in Game 2, those two should be able to contribute points for the Rockets.
Outside Kevin Durant, it was Klay Thompson who contributed much to Houston’s demise in Game 1. The former Washington State guard scored 28 points on 9-18 shooting from the floor. Thompson connected on 6 out of 15 three pointers, with both attempts and makes his most in the current postseason. Thompson is a career 42.2% three point shooter and if you give him those many shots in one game, he is going to kill you.
What makes the Dubs even more dangerous is the fact that they won Game 1 with Stephen Curry not making his three pointers. Curry only scored 18 points in Game 1 while shooting 1-5 from the three point line. You know Curry is going to keep on shooting and if he gets his act going in Game 2 plus Durant and Thompson also hit their shots, the Warriors are almost impossible to beat.
Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala combined for just 3-8 from the field and at times, they looked hesitant to take the shot. Expect the Rockets to dare these two to shoot, especially the outside shot.
Statistics wise, the Warriors aren’t really much better than the Rockets. In fact, These are two every evenly matched teams. if you take a look at Game 1 again, they were going back and forth early and were tied at the end of the first half. The Warriors only took control in the third quarter and as we know, the Dubs are the best 3rd quarter team in the league.
Houston has what it takes to match the Dubs. They just have to do it for 48 minutes and that’s what makes it difficult. You can’t blink against the Warriors, especially in the third quarter. Having said that, if the Rockets can’t blow them out early, they must keep it close after three quarters.
One thing going for them is that the Rockets have not lost back to back games this season with James Harden and Chris Paul playing together. That premise will be put to the test in Game 2. It’s not about Harden and Paul playing together. It’s about the Rockets putting the clamps on Kevin Durant and not letting the Splash Brothers take too many threes.
These are the top two teams in the NBA right now and it’s just a pity that one of them isn’t going to make the NBA Finals. The Rockets are going to come back strong in Game 2, no doubt about that. But given how Durant scored with ease in Game 1 and Houston not having a defensive ace who can challenge him, we’re going with the Dubs in Game 2 again. It should be a lot closer but in the end, the poise of Golden State prevails. We’re picking the Warriors to win and go up 2-0 on the Rockets.
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