Prior to Game 1 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals, I was taken to task over some words I wrote about how little regard I had for the impact of the supposed wing defense saviors that the Houston Rockets acquired over the offseason.
Here’s what I wrote:
..But I’m skeptical that Luc Mbah a Moute or Tucker are going to be able to do anything that looks like shutting KD down. I’m also pretty curious to see how Houston integrates their new switch everything defense with the reality of Durant owning CP3 and Harden off of switches in Steve Kerr’s motion-heavy offense.
Well, Warriors coach Steve Kerr mostly threw out all that “motion-heavy” nonsense and just went full-on James Harden mode, destroying (as predicted) everything the Rockets tried to throw in his way. It was wonderful.
You want to play iso ball? You can’t handle iso ball!
Golden State generally runs a certain style of basketball, highlighted by tons of passing and off-ball player movement. The Warriors still mostly ran this offense, while mixing in elements of the Rocket’s preferred isolation attacks. But before we break into the discussion of Durant’s isolation efficiency, it’s important to note that the Warriors didn’t completely abandon their principles in favor of ugly iso ball:
Game 1 Dribbles— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) May 15, 2018
Game 1 Passes
(per @SecondSpectrum data)
The preferred play seemed to be Durant out on the perimeter, against James Harden if at all possible. But Durant isn’t too picky. He’s more than happy to cross over anyone unlucky enough to be caught out on the wing in isolation against him.
It was generally Durant who responded to the Rocket’s runs, killing them with an unfair mix of length, athleticism, and mid-range shooting prowess. In fact, it was Durant’s early heroics that rebalanced the game after the Rockets jumped out to a quick start.
From Marcus Thompson at The Athletic:
The Rockets were on point to start the game. Harden scored their first nine points, getting the sea of red ecstatic and loud. That fed into the host’s energy on defense. You could feel it in the way Tucker pressed up on Durant, restricting his movement and swiping at the ball. Tucker is strong. Durant couldn’t bump him off, or get free to go around him.
So he just rose up. It looked so easy.
The million dollar question
Is it unfair? Well, sure, probably. But isn’t that the point of sports? Accumulate as much talent as possible with the end goal of overwhelming everyone and running through your competition.
It’s only one game, but the Houston Rockets are now facing an uphill battle, needing to win four out of the next six games against this Warriors team. More critically, like pretty much every team that has come before, the Rockets need to sit down and think of a way to stop Kevin Durant.
He torched everyone the Rockets threw at him. Whether it be the vaunted offseason additions, Luc Mbah a Moute, and PJ Tucker (see video above), or the preferred soft target, James Harden (see video below) Durant was not bothered much by any defender. In the post game interview Harden - who was the frequent target of Durant off of a screen and switch play - didn’t really have much of an answer. You are probably going to want your sound on for this clip:
How are you guys going to stop KD in Game 2?— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) May 15, 2018
Mike D’Antoni had few better answers, tossing out the tired cliches of “do a better job defensively,” and “we weren’t quite tough enough.” Asked in his post game interview if switching everything was a problem for a player like KD, he matter of factly said “yeah.”
While they can address their turnovers, and clean up some of their rotations, the Rockets are still going to searching for an answer to the Warriors - which in turn means searching for an answer to Durant.
Other Warriors Wonders:
While Durant was the highest scoring Warrior, there were a number of worthy players last night. I’m giving my award to Durant, for breaking Houston’s defense (and proving me right for serious blog boy cred).
Klay Thompson: 28 points (on 18 shots), 2 assists (tying a career-high)
Ok, just kidding, that’s not his career high in assists. But Klay gets mentioned here for his role as a play finisher anyways, so I’m not mad at him. Thompson was the frequent end result of the Rockets defense laid all akimbo by Steph Curry and Durant. You’ll see a lot of talk about how open he was, but look at the movement that precipitates those open looks:
Some of the Klay breakdowns— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 15, 2018
-Capela/Tucker both think they have Draymond
-Don’t get a body close enough twice in transition
-Paul overhelps in front of Capela after Harden beat off dribble, wide in corner
-Harden floats too far away/falls
-Paul brainfarts, loses him completely pic.twitter.com/FDKNCPLT4y
Draymond Green: 9 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, game-high +19 on the night
Green didn’t have a great scoring night, but the Warriors have such a well-rounded team, they didn’t need him to. Draymond was masterful in the post defensively all night, lagging just between his man and the driving penetration in order to handle whatever’s needed.
He also served as our secondary primary (?) ball handler. Look at the flow of assists on the Warriors and appreciate Draymond Green’s excellence.
The Rockets had 18 assists with James Harden responsible for 7 of them, including 5 to Clint Capela. The Warriors had 24 assists with Draymond Green and Steph Curry responsible for 17 of them, including 4 each to Klay Thompson. #RingerNBA (@presidual) pic.twitter.com/8JflkA5TQS— The Ringer (@ringer) May 15, 2018
Game one in the books. Tremendous pressure is now on the Rockets to win at least one game at home tomorrow. Who you got for your Warrior wonder?
Who was your Warrior Wonder in Game 1 vs. the Rockets?
This poll is closed