In the series preview I co-authored prior to the 2018 Western Conference Finals, we wrote that the Golden State Warriors are “perfectly composed” to beat the Houston Rockets.
Game 1 seemed to confirm that thought as the Warriors charged past the Rockets for a 119-106 win.
The champs shackled the offensive dynamo that is the Rockets to 45% shooting from the field, and outscored them 18-3 on fastbreak points. We also caught an eyeful of Stephen Curry and Kevon Looney guarding Harden on switches in Game 1. BBallbreakdown did an excellent job diagramming how that scheme weathered Harden’s spectacular shotmaking early on, before adjusting and clamping down late as he wearied.
Harden’s overall numbers were ridiculously good overall (41 points on 14-of-24 shooting, 5-of-9 from downtown), but he was forced to pound the air out of the ball as he scanned for glimpses of daylight in the Warriors defense.
Per Tim McMahon of ESPN:
Harden scored 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting with two fouls drawn and one turnover on isolations.
Harden was effective as a scorer, but the Warriors were able to prevent him from creating 3-point looks for teammates. Harden had seven assists, all of which were feeds for dunks or layups. Teammates attempted only two 3s off his passes. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Harden averaged 3.3 assists for 3s during the regular season.
The Rockets bench scored 21 points on 8-for-26 shooting, and starter P.J. Tucker scored 1 point on 0-for-3 attempts from the field.
I. Can the Warriors keep containing the Rockets?
Clearly, the Warriors don’t mind if Harden pounds the air out of the ball in isolation as long as the other Rockets players don’t find a rhythm. I don’t see this changing much, and perhaps will get worse unless Harden can hit extremely difficult shots all night.
Additionally, the Rockets had an additional defender: the shot clock. Per Ben Rohrback of Yahoo Sports:
The Rockets took 24 of their 85 shots (28 percent) in the final seven seconds of the shot clock, including 17 in the last four seconds, of which they made just six. And that doesn’t include their three shot-clock violations.
The Warriors defense gladly will take a hurried, contested, shot attempt under the duress of the clock.
I don’t expect the Rockets strategy to change anytime soon either:
Mike D’Antoni on the “noise” about Rockets after Game 1 loss to Warriors: “[They say] all we do is iso. No it isn’t and that’s what we do best! ... They [say we] don’t pass, all they do is stand. Really? Have you watched us for 82 games?” pic.twitter.com/odgH5Qnbqb— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 15, 2018
II. Do the Rockets have any idea how to guard the Warriors?
The Rockets’ defense in Game 1 was laughable. The Warriors shot 52% from the field with 24 assists and 9 turnovers against a confused, slow-rotating, easily frustrated Houston defense. I’m not sure if that’s something Houston can clean up in the one day between Game 1 and Game 2.
Curry shot 8-of-15 from the field for 18 points, dished out 8 assists, and only had one turnover. He also was slow-cooking Harden at will with multiple blow-bys and layups. Looks to like that injured knee has healed up pretty good.
Steph beats Harden at the point of attack, Harden ends up reaching to no avail = Steph left handed scoop layup... (Reggie Miller: “Harden is gonna have to play better individual defense.”) pic.twitter.com/Tldi2pS8fv— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) May 15, 2018
Oh and Klay Thompson scored 28 points on 9-18 shooting, drilling six three-pointers. I’m not sure the Rockets had any idea what to do with him.
Wait, I forgot about Kevin Durant. He scored 37 points on 14-of-27 shots, completely eviscerating “defensive difference maker” Tucker in the process. However, I do believe the Rockets will experiment more with double teams on Durant, just to get the ball out of his hands.
Of course, doubling KD means you risk leaving your defense torn apart by another Warrior. Eh, it’s tough. But let’s ask their leader, James Harden, what he thinks the Rockets should do to stop Durant.
How are you guys going to stop KD in Game 2?— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) May 15, 2018
Yeah, guess we’re gonna need some help answering that question too.