What an exciting matchup at Oracle tonight for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. You had the hot, streaking Houston Rockets looking like world beaters in the first quarter. You had the Warriors, waking up from their post-Memphis slumber to show Houston what they were made of with a huge second quarter run. You had MVP-caliber players going head-to-head in the 3rd and 4th in a showing that made even Warriors fans believers in James Harden.
But what you had in the end was the Warriors team, behind 28 assists, only 12 turnovers, and efficient defense when it counted outplaying the individual efforts of Harden and Trevor Ariza (who played a sneaky great game with only nine points but countless hustle plays). This series going forward will be about momentum, as both teams are capable of huge runs out on the floor. Tonight it was Golden State facing the rush of an excited, motivated Rockets team coming off a franchise-defining series to put a scare to the number one seed. But when Dwight Howard went down in the first quarter after Josh Smith rolled on his knee, fans must have breathed a sigh of relief.
What did we learn tonight
- The Rockets are not THAT bad without Dwight Howard. They play a different style of game, and you have to assume that Harden won’t go NBA Jam on us for the rest of the series, but they hustle and they push the ball. Will Howard be back in the series? I am guessing "yes", but thinking he will be limited at best. When he was in, the Warriors had the answer for him using double teams to get him in the post, but his defense was causing missed layups all over the floor. This will obviously be one of the larger storylines as we go forward
- Some Warriors left their game back in Memphis. Andrew Bogut was a relative non-factor tonight, not just because he was in foul trouble, but because he was immune to layups tonight. He was tentative around the basket and looks fatigued after matching up against Gasol and ZBo for a whole round. Look for him to hopefully bounce back
- Steve Kerr has a hack-a-Capela in him. It was fun to see, but c’mon Steve. Let’s hope we leave that one on the drawing board for the rest of the series
- It will be the bench players that make the difference. For each team, a role player stood out with big contributions. For the Warriors it was Shawn Livingston with one of his best games as a Warrior. He had a good season against the Rockets in their matchups, and for some reason plays very well against Houston. his 18 points (mostly in the big first-half run) were a big difference maker, but so was his defense and rebounding. More on this in a minute. For the Rockets. Clint Cappella put in a great game filling in for Howard. He defends the wing better than Dwight and still fills the lane like Howard does, making us believe that the drop off is really not that far.
- Speaking of Livingston, the Dray at Center is the best lineup of this series, and it’s not close. There was no surprise to those that watch the numbers all season that the Dray at the Five lineup was a dominant one, and tonight it showed up in big ways. The floor spacing, the defense, the all around play. It was magic to see and the Rockets had no answer. While Harden was hitting step-back after step-back, the Warriors were getting layups on the other end on countless defensive collapses. In my mind, the Rockets can’t keep shooting at this clip, but the Warriors can definitely keep getting open looks like this.
Hard fought, but give it to the home crowd for lifting the Warriors out and back up to their game. Contributions from all over the roster - Barnes playing like #playoffbarnes with 14 points on 6-12 shooting. Klay’s numbers were misleading as he could have easily had ten or so more points on missed layups, but will definitely bounce back with better defense on Harden. This one still looks like it will be Warriors in six, as Houston doesn’t look to back down. Let’s see how both teams adjust for game two, but as for now we can go get that nightcap to wash away this tight well played game to celebrate a hard-fought win.
And finally, RIP David Lee