In the Lion's Den: Would Having Homecourt Really Allow a Team to Beat the Warriors?
For the first time in 3 years, it seems that the Golden State Warriors will not have homecourt advantage throughout the entirety of the NBA playoffs. With this development, some analysts and commentators are now predicting the Houston Rockets to be the favorites over the Warriors to win their almost inevitable, hugely anticipated matchup in the Western Conference Finals this year. Are these analysts and commentators right to think this? Would having homecourt advantage against the Warriors really propel the Houston Rockets to the NBA finals for the first time since Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in 1995?
To answer this question, we must go back and look at the Warrior’s 2017 post-season; reasons being that this was the first year the Warriors utilized the Curry, Thompson, Durant, and Green unit known as the Death Lineup.
With these 4 players anchoring the starting lineup, the Warrior’s offense was unstoppable no matter where they played. Their offensive rating was 116.3: 116.5 at home and 116.2 away; while their true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage hovered around 61% and 56.5% respectively. The primary difference in their offensive performances at home and on the road were their assists and turnovers; which are explained by the 70.3% assist percentage and 14% turnover percentage at home, while posting a 60.5% assist percentage and 12.6% turnover percentage on the road. What this translates to is that they passed the ball a lot more at home and relied more on their player’s individual isolation abilities on the road; whether it be a conscious decision by the Warriors or their opponents forcing them to slow down their pace.
The biggest difference between the Warrior’s playing at home vs away is their defense. In their first-round matchup against the Trailblazers, the Blazers had an offensive rating of 89.2 in Oakland, but 103.5 in Portland. Their true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage in Oakland was 47.3% and 43.2% respectively, while it was 54.1% and 48.6% respectively in Portland. They also had an assist and turnover percentage of 45.7% and 16% in Oakland, while being more efficient with ball movement in Portland with an assist percentage of 43.1% and a turnover percentage of 12.9%.
These numbers conform to the idea of homecourt advantage. The stats against San Antonio are a similar story. The stats get interesting in the Jazz series, due to the Jazz finding more success in Oakland than in Utah. They shot better from the field in Oakland (55.0 TS% and 52.1 EFG% away vs 48.1 TS% and 42.5%). This could be explained by the sudden change in strategy employed by the Jazz for the last 2 games at home. It seems like they decided to move the ball less and rely more upon their ISO abilities, as explained by the lower assist percentage and turnover percentage (57.9% and 14.8% away vs 50.8% and 9.6% at home). Obviously, this strategy didn’t work against the Warriors.
The NBA Finals matchup with the Cavaliers seems to provide the blueprint in how to beat the Warriors. The Warriors had an average offensive rating of 117.6 in all their wins against the Cavs and had a 117.4 offensive rating in the one game they lost. In that game, every advanced metric was about the same for the Warriors offensively, with the biggest difference being 5%; but it seemed to be a statistical anomaly for the Cavaliers. They posted an offensive rating of 136.1, with a TS% and EFG% of 68.1 and 66.7 respectively; which is significantly higher than their average offensive rating of 118.1, and the 61.4 TS% and 57.9 EFG% they normally shot throughout the postseason.
Not taking the statistical outlier into consideration, the series seems to be the same story. The Warriors offense posted a 118.8 offensive rating at home, while a 113.9 offensive rating in Cleveland. They shot better in Cleveland (63.1 TS% and 57.8 EFG% home vs 59.4 TS% and 55.8 EFG% away), which could be explained by the increase in ball movement in Cleveland (72.5 AST% 17.4 TOV% in Cleveland vs 67.2 AST% and 11.7 TOV% in Oakland). Their defense still has the biggest statistical difference when playing at home vs playing away.
Taking away the statistical anomaly, the Cavs had an offensive rating of 109.7 at home vs the 104.4 in Oakland. They also shot better in Cleveland (59.1 TS% and 53.8 EFG% at home vs 53.4 TS% and 50.0 EFG% away), but it wasn’t due to increased ball movement since their AST% remained the same. It just seems they had more shots going in at home than away.
So, does having homecourt advantage against the Warriors help the Rockets beat them? It seems so. Their offense is unflinching no matter where they play, but their defense suffers greatly when playing away from home. They seem to allow more points on average, force less turnovers, and allow more ball movement. It seems the easiest way to beat the Warriors is to have a very efficient offense and homecourt advantage.
Obviously, there are some problems with using this survey for determining the almost inevitable Western Conference Finals matchup between the Rockets and Warriors. The sample size is a bit too small to really prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt due to the way the Warriors carved through the postseason last year. The Warriors have also never faced a team in the postseason that plays like this current Rockets team, but this current Rockets team has not played in a postseason situation together. The Warriors have also had a disappointing regular season up to this point (mostly due to injuries and a seeming lack of effort as opposed to decline). Despite all these factors, this survey does provide a glimmer of hope for the Houston Rockets and their fans.
(All statistics are provided by NBA.com)