Five Thoughts: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, the Houston Rockets lost to the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals after missing a soul crushing 27 straight 3-point attempts. The Rockets revived themselves midseason and came back to try again but currently find themselves down 2-0 to the Warriors in the Western Conference Semifinals. Game 3 isn’t until Saturday so until then here’s five thoughts from the first two games.
1. Here we go about officiating again.
The headline coming out of Game 1 was unfortunately about the officiating. The Rockets felt there were more than a few missed calls and lost a close game. Therefore, they argued they lost because of the missed calls by the officials. It didn’t help that Scott Foster, a veteran official, the Rockets will argue has a bias against them, was assigned to do game 2. In Foster and the other officials’ defense, James Harden is a notorious foul hunter that will collapse at the slightest hint of contact and Chris Paul has a long history of arguing with officials. In the Rockets defense:
There’s an argument it’s not a flagrant foul because Harden jumps forward, but by the rules that’s at least a shooting foul. Thankfully, the officiating was better in Game 2, and hopefully it continues on for the rest of the series.
2. Injuries to Harden and Curry can impact this series.
If Game 1 was about officiating, Game 2 was about injuries to superstars. In the first few minutes of Game 2, Warriors’ guard Stephen Curry dislocated his left middle finger. He returned a few minutes later after the medical staff popped it back in and taped it to his ring finger. Despite it being his guide hand, rather than his shooting hand, he still struggled for a few shots before getting back to form. About six minutes into the game, Rockets’ guard James Harden got struck across the eyes, ending up with a laceration on his left eyebrow. He wouldn’t return until the second quarter and had trouble seeing for the remainder of the game. Considering how important seeing is to basketball, Harden’s injury seems the more likely one to have an effect on the series.
3. The Warriors are going all out from the start.
The Warriors approach to the series has been simple, play their best five players as much as possible. The vaunted “Hamptons Five”, consisting of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, is averaging 24 minutes per game while having a +/- of plus eight and a 15.8 net rating. No other lineup has averaged even five minutes. In addition, all five players are averaging more than 30 minutes per game, with Durant and Thompson playing over 40 mpg. Only Kevon Looney and Shaun Livingston are averaging more than 10 mpg. The Warriors are treating this series like they would the NBA Finals. As expected it’s been effective and is a big reason why they’re up 2-0 right now.
4. The Rockets might be one guy short of beating the Warriors.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, the Warriors approach hasn’t left them with many options. Not many players can stay on the court when the Warriors go death mode. Clint Capela specifically, has been hindered and is at a -18 for the series. The Rockets have been getting around it by playing P.J. Tucker at the center position, but doing so has exposed their lack of wing depth. Coach Mike D’Antoni has tried numerous players to fill in on the wings, going eleven players deep in Game 2, but so far hasn’t found an answer. At the end of the day, no team in the league has more talent than Golden State, and talent is what usually wins these series.
5. The winner is likely moving on to the Finals.
Going into the second round, this series was the hot pick to be the most interesting one. Despite it being 2-0, both games have been close and it’s been an entertaining series. The additional intrigue has been that whatever team advances to the Western Conference Finals will be favored to win and move on to the NBA Finals. Both the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers have potent offenses, but they lack the defense and experience to be expected to defeat either the Rockets or the Warriors. Some have gone as far as to say whichever team wins this series will win the whole thing, regardless of who comes out of the East. For now, we have to wait for Game 3 to see if the Rockets can mount a comeback.