Games are built on matchups, mismatches and strategic differences. The Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are alike in the sense that they want to run and gun, shoot a ton of threes with prolific shooters spaced around the perimeter. On defense, they have enough wing defender to funnel shooters and ball-handlers into their elite interior centers. In that way, it's actually the perfect modern-day style of basketball. But we're quick to assume that's the way this hypothetical utopian offense would find its way on this team.
More and more, the Warriors aren't playing that way. Fans audibly groaned when the middle was so packed with defenders it forced Stephen Curry or another ball-handler to lope balls into waiting hands. Thompson was unable to separate for a single open three and made his first three with less than a minute left in the game. The defense was awful, so maybe the discussion should start and end there. But perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of this year's version of the Warriors is its steadfast refusal to space shooters with good defenders.
Andrew Bogut was visibly frustrated in the locker room, alluding to the sieve-like defense throughout the fourth quarter. On the court, he played well, stopping multiple ball-handlers, and even refused to come out on two separate occasions. Marreese Speights played well - amazingly - along with Lee, but Jackson's seeming adoration for the highly-paid power forward is starting to hurt the team on both sides of the ball. Of course, it's not solely on one player. That's simply unfair.
With the growing movement that's clamoring for more Draymond Green, isn't this essentially killing two birds with one stone?
From one disgruntled center to a happier one. In a perfect look at the way both teams are situated at the moment Dwight Howard had this to say when asked whether he stepped back on purpose on his lone made three-pointer:
"Yeah. I didn't want to shoot a long two. I want to shoot a three, if anything."
For a guy that doesn't, and shouldn't, shoot threes, that's a rather conformist statement that has to resonate along the thoughts of Houston GM Daryl Morey. The Rockets don't shoot the best percentage from three but the sheer amount taken helps balance that out.
In the home locker room...
Jackson isn't ready to give up on his offense:
"That's why we went out and got Andre Iguodala because of his playmaking ability. We will be just fine."
So that's where this "rivalry" stands at the moment. The Rockets are better. There's no way around this. Even with Andre Iguodala, Jermaine O'Neal, Festus Ezeli healthy, the Warriors might have lost this game. Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin played visibly hurt, and Omer Asik is going to get traded for a lethal player to complement Dwight (Paul Millsap?). The Rockets are really, really, championship-level good. The Warriors, at this point, are just trying to get there.
Warrior Wonder: Marreese Speights
When asked what Mark Jackson has said about him, Speights said, "We've just had a couple conversations this year. I know what I have to do and I've just been doing that every day."
Not coincidentally, Jackson admitted Speights wasn't playing well but firmly stated Speights was the backup power forward and that wouldn't change. The jumper was there tonight, but it was mostly the energy that finally turned into points. Speights tore down nine total rebounds, with eight (!!) on the offensive end. With Dwight contesting and Terrence Jones/Omri Casspi horrible on the defensive end, he had his way.
It remains to be seen if he can keep it up but the Warriors have no choice but to play him with O'Neal now out indefinitely.