After a boring Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday, fans were hoping for some excitement in this meeting of high-powered offenses. And that’s what they received.
The game went back-and-forth for much of the first half with both teams shooting well from the field as the teams went into halftime with the score tied at 56. But the Warriors put together an impressive second half, dominating the game on their way to 119-106 win on Monday night
Durant, Warriors own the third quarter
The Warriors used yet another impressive third quarter break the halftime tie and seize control of the game, putting some real distance between them and the Rockets. The Warriors outscored the Rockets 31-24 in the third quarter, leading by as many as thirteen points. Leading the way for the Warriors was Kevin Durant, who scored 13 of his 37 points in the third.
What became clear in that third quarter is that the Rockets had no defensive answer for Durant, no way to slow him down. The Warriors knew that if they could get the ball to Durant, he could get a good look at a shot.
The Warriors defense was also strong in that third quarter, holding the high-powered Rockets to just 24 points. The Warriors forced six Rockets turnovers in the quarter, including this steal by Stephen Curry that led to an Andre Iguodala dunk.
The Warriors withstood the Rockets’ best punch, as they jumped out to an early nine-point lead in the first quarter. This is where playoff experience and championship poise come into play. When you take that first shot from a team, do you fold or do you weather the storm and then respond? In Game 1, the Warriors again showed their ability to overcome fast starts by teams and gradually get in control of a game.
The complete Draymond Green experience was on display in Game 1
Monday night gave us both the good and the frustrating aspects of Draymond Green. The more vexing parts of Green’s game came early on, specifically when he picked up an early technical foul for shoving James Harden.
From the opening tip, it was clear that Green was playing with a ton of energy. That excess energy came back to bite him as he picked up three fouls in the first half, sending him to the bench with four minutes left in the second quarter. After Green went to the bench, the Warriors defense struggled and the Rockets were able to erase the Warriors’ six-point advantage and get things tied up by halftime.
Green addressed his surplus of energy, which may have had a negative effect on his game, during his postgame interview.
Draymond Green on his emotional start: "I was a bit overzealous, a bit amped up. But I'd rather that any day than coming out flat." pic.twitter.com/5W3Hvq1vVU— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 15, 2018
Rightfully so, Green points out that him having more-than-enough energy is better than the alternative. As the game progressed, that initial burst of superfluous energy disappeared and Green settled down into playing his normal, fiery game and thus he began to have a positive impact on Monday night’s game.
Green finished with five points, nine rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks. As is often the case with Green, the high caliber of his performance does not show up in the traditional statistical measures, particularly because so much of what he does is on defense and thus hard to quantify. One stat that will does a good job of displaying Green’s impact is +/- and he had a +19 on Monday night, the highest of any player.
Green did a great job of contesting shots, both on the perimeter as well as in the paint. Whether it was blocking a P.J. Tucker three-point attempt or battling for rebounds with Clint Capela, Green did it all in Game 1. After that temperamental start, Green focused and provided the Warriors with outstanding passing and defense to help them get that Game 1 victory.
It was truly a team effort for the Warriors
Game 1 was an impressive top-to-bottom performance for the Warriors as they got contributions throughout their roster. I don’t want to use too much (metaphorical) ink to discuss how great Kevin Durant’s performance was (though I could and would very much like to) but he was dialed in offensively on Monday night. Klay Thompson was the other hot hand on offense for the defending champs, as he scored 28 points while going 6/15 from three-point range. One of those makes from three-point range came with a celebratory kiss as well.
Three of Thompson’s makes from beyond the arc came in the fourth quarter as the Rockets tried to mount one last run to make a game of it. But Thompson was able to get shockingly open and knocked down those open shots to put the proverbial nail in the coffin.
While Durant and Thompson provided the Warriors’ offensive punch, Curry struggled a bit in Game 1. The Warriors’ point guard was particularly off from long distance where he was 1/5 shooting. Between coming back from the MCL sprain and having the Rockets direct most of their offensive attack at him, it’s perhaps not surprising that Curry couldn’t get into a groove.
However, Curry did finish with 18 points, in large part because he made a point of attacking the basket and getting points there. Curry also finished Monday night’s game with eight assists and, most impressive of all, just one turnover. Though he did not wow us with the offensive exploits to which we’ve all become so accustomed, Curry picked his spots and played an important role in this Warriors’ road win.
As Steve Kerr had alluded to in the days leading up to this first game, Nick Young saw minutes against the Rockets. The Warriors’ reserve guard made the most of his time on the court, scoring nine points while shooting 3/5 from three-point range in 15 minutes of action.
Kevon Looney also ended up playing some major minutes in Monday night’s game. Looney played 25 minutes in Game 1 and though his stat line wasn’t particularly impressive, he still did about as well as one could out there. He didn’t stop Harden or Chris Paul every time he was switched on him, but he held his own and did a good job contesting shots. It was a solid performance by Looney and the Warriors hope they’ll continue to see that effort as the series moves forward.
Harden played well, but...
On the whole, the Warriors did their best defending Harden. But given that he’s such a great player, you can only really slow Harden down. He’s still going to find a way to get his points. That was definitely the case on Monday night as Harden finished the game with 41 points on 14/24 shooting. But those big numbers for Harden might have been, to some degree, by design for the Warriors.
Warriors tend to prioritize shutting off Houston's outside shooters over stopping Harden at all costs. So far burning them, might pay off later— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) May 15, 2018
While Harden and, to a lesser degree, Paul were able to score, no other Rockets player could get anything consistently going offensively.
Also, forcing Harden to be so ball dominant and dictate everything in these isolation-heavy situations clearly wore him out. Harden had all four of his turnovers in Game 1 in the second half as he’d had to expend so much energy, which led to him making careless or not-so-smart plays.
It looks like one approach the Warriors will take with Harden is the basketball equivalent of the “rope-a-dope.”
Warriors trying to be Ali to Harden's Foreman— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) May 15, 2018
Famously executed by Muhammad Ali against George Foreman in 1974’s Rumble in the Jungle, the idea is that you let your opponent take all their shots so that they wear themselves out and thus are primed for a knockout in their more-exhausted state.
The series resumes on Wednesday night with Game 2 being played in Houston. It will be interesting to see what moves each team makes (or doesn’t make) in response to Game 1. But, after one game, the Warriors look determined to remind the rest of the league just how great they can be.
Who was your Warrior Wonder in Game 1 vs. the Rockets?
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