Rockets Head To The Bay Confident They Can Hang With The Champs
The Warriors let James Harden and Chris Paul get theirs in the series opener but shut down Houston’s supporting cast, and it was hard to envision the Rockets bouncing back against a Golden State team that looked like it had an answer for everything. But Houston did more than just recover in Game 2 – it blew out the Warriors, riding big games from P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon to a 22-point win. And Stephen Curry had a second straight off night, raising questions if he’s anywhere near 100 percent after his late-season leg injury.
Houston was 50-5 when Harden, Paul and Clint Capela all played heading into the series, but it became very apparent how vital the performance of the Rockets’ role players was in Game 1. The Tucker-Ariza-Gordon trio that went off for 68 points in Game 2 totaled just 24 in the opener.
From Golden State’s perspective, it’s been Kevin Durant and then everyone else. He’s totaled 75 points in the first two games but just one assist, a stunner from a player who fits seamlessly into the Warriors’ selfless mentality. Curry, who averaged 24.5 points and shot 44.2 percent from 3-point range after returning for the final four games against the Pelicans, went 2 for 13 from 3 in the first two against Houston.
Golden State doesn’t lose consecutive games in the playoffs
Why was it so important for the Warriors to get out of Houston with even just one win? That means Golden State is headed back to a fourth straight NBA Finals if it can simply take care of business at home, something it’s done … well, quite convincingly in recent playoffs. The Warriors have won 15 straight postseason games at Oracle Arena since dropping Game 7 of the 2016 Finals to the Cavs, and they’ve won them by an average of 15.4 points.
Golden State doesn’t really lose consecutive games in the playoffs against Western opponents. Oklahoma City beat the Warriors in Games 3 and 4 of the 2016 West finals, but other than that, Golden State hasn’t lost twice in a row to a fellow West team in the playoffs since the 2015 second round against Memphis.
Contrary to popular belief, Houston ran more ISOs in Game 2, 32 to their 28 from the opener. They didn’t really pass more, 228 in Game 2 after 226 in Game 1. So what changed? The Rockets made the extra pass count with nine secondary – or hockey – assists on Wednesday after totaling just four of those on Monday.
They also got inside and finished. Houston was 18 of 29 (62.1 percent) in the restricted area in Game 1, above its average attempts in the regular season but slightly below what it’s used to in terms of finishing. In Game 2, the Rockets were a ridiculous 27 of 35 (77.1 percent) at the rim. Ariza and Tucker were 9 for 9.
Boil it Down
The Warriors are going to need something more than what Curry’s given them in the first two games to win this series. What they really can’t afford is another clunker from both he and Klay Thompson like the Splash Brothers had in Game 2. For as many options as the talent-rich Warriors seem to have on offense, it’s increasingly becoming KD-Curry-Thompson and not much else. Nick Young is capable of hitting some shots off the bench, but he can’t be relied upon to do that consistently. Draymond Green is finding his teammates and facilitating, but this isn’t a series where he’s likely to have a huge impact offensively.
Look for Golden State to keep letting Harden attack when he wants as long as those drives and kicks don’t lead to wide-open 3s for his teammates. Two defensive-minded wings have struggled big time through the series’ first two games, with the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala a series-worst minus-22 and Houston’s Luc Richard Mbah a Moute minus-21 while shooting 1 for 11. If he’s not playable while looking like he’s still suffering the effects of a shoulder injury, the Rockets’ rotation dwindles and that places more pressure on Harden – who has struggled with fatigue in the past – to carry the load.