3 Takeaways from Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals
I’m not going to lie, as die-hard of a Rockets fan that I am, I did not expect the Rockets to pull this win out after the 1st quarter. I thought that this game and series was over 12 minutes into Game 4. The Rockets looked defeated as a team; and, other than the sole offensive contributions by James Harden, were almost completely out of the game. Something must have happened between the 1st and 2nd quarter because the Rockets came back with a newfound energy. Harden still carried most of the offense on his back, but the Rockets looked like they were actually trying in the 2nd. The Warriors came back and took the game in the 3rd quarter, but the grit and determination from guys like Gerald Green, PJ Tucker, and Chris Paul willed the Rockets back into the driver’s seat and stealing victory away from the Warriors in the closing minutes of Game 4. Here are 3 things we can learn from this exciting thriller.
Defense Wins Championships
This series is a battle between two of the best offensive juggernauts in NBA history, but it’s not the offense that is determining the wins. It’s the defense.
As you can conclude from the numbers above, offense is obviously still a huge aspect of this series. Every game except Game 4 was a blowout. Despite this, the stats don’t show that one team has a leg up on the other offensively. They have both won with or without a lot of ball movement (as shown by the assist %), at a fast or slow pace, and through having a very efficient scoring night from the field (offensive rating in the context of the pace). The decider seems to be the defense, and Game 4 proved that. The Rockets were down big early in the game and going into the 4th, but the Rocket’s defense kicked in and limited the Warriors to only 12 points in the 4th. Whichever team that keeps this defensive momentum going in 2 of the next 3 games will be moving on to the finals.
Kevon Looney wasn’t the problem, Shaun Livingston was the problem
As usual, fans started playing the blame game as soon as this game was over. Most fans of the fans I observed seemed to point to Andre Iguodala being absent as a major reason why Golden State lost. Although Andre Iguodala has been worse on the court than off the court for the Warriors this series (4.3 net rating on the court against a 13.6 net rating off the court), its more about who took the valuable minutes Iguodala played.
Of the two players who replaced Andre Iguodala, the obvious choice for the blame is Kevon Looney. He is an undersized center, who can’t create his own offense or spread the floor and is easily beaten off the dribble by most guards; but, surprisingly, he wasn’t the problem, Shaun Livingston was. Here is a comparison of their team impact:
Despite Kevon Looney’s lack of offensive skill or defensive ability to keep up with Houston’s guards, it hasn’t mattered much. What has mattered more is Shaun Livingston’s impact offensively when he’s in the game. His offensive rating (101.8) is the lowest off all Warriors players who have stepped onto the court this series. His defensive rating is also middle of the pack amongst all Warriors players; while Kevon Looney’s defensive rating is 4th among all Warriors this series, at an elite 90.7. Shaun Livingston was a major contributor to this team in years prior, but it seems that father time has finally caught up with him.
Kevin Durant is a problem… for the Warriors
I know what you’re thinking. Mason must have finally gone crazy. First, he questioned the contributions of The King, now, he’s questioning the contributions of (according to some, including me) one of the most unstoppable scorers in NBA history? He can’t possibly be disrespecting the former 4-time scoring champion and League and Finals MVP? No disrespect to Kevin Durant… but yeah, I am questioning his contributions to the Warriors. Before you start disregarding everything I say, I want you to consider these numbers:
Obviously, Kevin Durant isn’t a terrible player. His impact is felt both on and off the court by his teammates. His skill with his measurables make him an unstoppable offensive player and a very versatile defender. All that being said, the Warriors are better overall when he isn’t on the court. Their defense improves dramatically, the have less turnovers, and the rebounding is marginally better. These differences show themselves in Game 4.
Although Kevin Durant still has a slightly positive net rating, there were some problems with how he was utilized.
As you can probably conclude, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green were utilized the poorest of the Warrior’s starting 5. The worst 3 lineups (with net ratings ranging from -69.7 to -85.2) all included Kevin Durant. The silver lining is that these lineups were used less than 10 minutes each, but the most used negative net rating lineup (clocking in at 23 minutes) featured the trio of Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Kevon Looney. The blame for this does not and should not fall onto Kevin Durant or Draymond Green; but, instead, Steve Kerr is to blame. It is the coach’s fault for not recognizing the ineffectiveness of Kevin Durant together with Draymond Green and Kevon Looney.