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2018 NBA Playoffs: Houston Rockets vs Golden State Warriors Game 3

The Houston Rockets bounced back with a strong Game 2 as they blew out the Golden State Warriors 127-105 in Houston last Wednesday. The win enabled the Rockets to go to Golden State with a 1-1 tie in their best of seven Western Conference Finals.

One game earlier, the Rockets yielded home-court advantage after losing to the Warriors 119-106 at the Toyota Center. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson presided over the Warriors offense in Game 1 as the defending NBA champions blew wide open a game that began as a back and forth between two heavyweights.

Houston got the much-needed scoring from their supporting cast in Game 2 and they dominated the Warriors throughout the game. The Warriors’ Splash Brothers couldn’t find their mark in Game 2 as the Warriors lost for only the third time in the current postseason.

With the series moving to Golden State for the next two games, the Warriors look to take control of the Western Conference Finals with the help of their hometown fans. Meanwhile, the Rockets hope they can at least get a split in the next two games to reclaim home-court advantage moving forward.

No doubt, these are the top two teams in the NBA and the winner of this series could very well be the next NBA champions. With the series even at one game apiece, all eyes are on the all-important Game 3.

Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors
Game 3, 2018 Western Conference Finals
Odds: Rockets +280, Warriors -340

Production of Supporting Cast

The Rockets played a masterful Game 2 and that was impressive coming off a 13 points loss in Game 1. But the question is can they sustain that kind of game? The key to that would be the production of their supporting cast.

Rockets players other than James Harden and Chris Paul only scored a total of 42 points in Game 1. That pretty much stalled the Houston offense which led to the loss. But in Game 2, the rest of the team already had 47 points at the half and 84 for the entire game.

Eric Gordon went off for 27 points on 6-9 shooting from behind the three-point line in Game 2. It was the second straight game where Gordon has shot the ball well. Prior to the Western Conference Finals, Gordon shot the ball over 45% from the field only once in 10 games. Gordon was a big part of the Rockets’ 65-win season. They will need him to be consistent on a game to game basis in order to have a shot at dethroning the Warriors.

Another strong performance from P.J. Tucker would be a welcome bonus for the Rockets. Tucker, who is more known for his work on defense and on the boards, scored a career playoff high of 22 points in Game 2. It was Tucker’s third double-digit scoring game in his last four games and if he keeps this pace, he will play an important complementary role in Game 3.

Is Curry OK?

Stephen Curry was expected to be his old MVP self after getting five days rest before the start of the Western Conference Finals. Curry missed the last 10 games of the regular season and the start of the playoffs with an MCL sprain. Prior to that, he also missed 19 regular season games due to a sprained right ankle. But after a solid four games against the Pelicans, Curry has struggled against the Rockets.

In the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, Curry has averaged just 17 points per game on 44% ( 15/34 ) shooting from the floor and only 15% ( 2/13 ) from the three-point area. Even if we don’t look into actual stats, we know that those are not Stephen Curry shooting numbers. And that has led to questions about Curry’s knee.

Curry says there is nothing wrong with his knee ( or his ankle ) and his struggle may be more about what the defense is giving him. While Curry has missed his threes, he has scored on plenty of layups in two games already. That may be Houston’s game plan, giving him the open lane to get a layup, which is one point less than what a long distance bomb would score.

Steph Curry has made a living out of making three-pointers off screens during the regular season ( and throughout his career ) but according to Sports Spectrum, he’s used 10 less ball screens per game against the Rockets and has taken just a total of four three-pointers off those screens. Moving forward, the Warriors must go back to what has given them success in the past and that’s Curry using ball screens and taking threes off them.

Durant vs Harden

It is expected that the series will be a duel between former OKC teammates Kevin Durant and James Harden.

Durant leads the Dubs in playoff scoring with his 29.6 points per game. Against the Rockets, KD has been waxing hot, scoring 37.5 points per game on 55.1% shooting in the first two games of the series. If the Rockets want to slow down the Warriors’ offensive machine, limiting Durant’s output should be one of their goals. However, it doesn’t appear that Houston has the defensive ace to do that.

Harden has struggled with his shooting during the entire postseason but the leading 2018 MVP candidate has found ways to score for his team. Against the Warriors though, Harden is shooting the ball at a 47.9% clip, although he struggled in Game 2. 47.9% is higher than both his regular season ( 44.9% ) and playoff averages ( 42.0% ).

James Harden looks like he’s getting his shot back and that’s not a good sign for the Dubs. What they must do though is give him his iso plays like they did in Game 1 and not let him allow to deliver assist passes to his open teammates waiting at the three-point area. That way, Golden State lets him score but stops the rest of the team. It worked in Game 1 and should work again.

Who Wins?

We’re not sure which Rockets team will show up. The one who relied almost solely on Harden’s isolation plays in Game 1 or the team who got plenty of people involved in the offense with ball movement in Game 2. If it’s the former, it’d be an easy outing for the Dubs. If it’s the latter, the Rockets have a better chance of winning. Still, sharing the ball won’t guarantee a victory because we’re not sure if the likes of Tucker and Gordon can sustain the kind of game they played in Game 2.

On the other hand, if Stephen Curry isn’t hurt, then he’s just in a shooting slump. That’s scary because he doesn’t have too many shooting slumps in his career. What that means is that he’s going to hit his mark sooner or later. Because Game 3 is at the Oracle, Curry should feed off the crowd and get his shooting back. Same with Klay Thompson.

Golden State has home court advantage now and they know what to do with it. Game 3 is going to be the most crucial game of this series. It’s either the Warriors will pull away or the Rockets will reclaim home-court advantage. Much respect to the Rockets for a sensational season. But I still think Golden State is still too good for them to beat this year.

Houston won when they were firing on all cylinders. The Dubs won even with Curry struggling. The concern is if the Rockets can keep up the torrid shooting. On the other hand, Steph Curry hasn’t had too many bad nights in one season. What more in a single series? The Dubs love playing at home and they love shooting at home. The hometown crowd should spark the champs. They will come out shooting in Game 3. We’re picking the Golden State Warriors to beat the Houston Rockets in a high scoring affair.

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