The Golden State Warriors have to be happy with their win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
On the road, they won by double digits playing the game the Houston Rockets wanted to play. But a series is long, and the Warriors will need to adjust to whatever the Rockets change in order to come out on top. I think the Warriors still have quite a few more cards to play.
Trust in Looney: Looney looked silly guarding James Harden and Chris Paul in isolation a few times in Game 1, but he accomplished his job well. He allowed only 12 points to them on 18 isolation possessions, which is incredible. He looks gawky and slow, but his length and discipline are truly remarkable. He’s pretty good!
Let them iso: the Rockets’ offense was spectacular in isolation in Game 1.
The Rockets offense was far more effective when James Harden or Chris Paul was in isolation.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 15, 2018
Here's a breakdown: pic.twitter.com/K2fpuqY3nB
The isolation plays are effective, but they are horribly tiring for Harden and they surely impact his defensive focus. Furthermore, the stagnant offense can’t create much more for others to get involved. There’s just not much of a possibility for an isolation-heavy offense to be better than it was in Game 1.
Beware of off-ball movement: The Rockets were content to let Harden isolate on mismatches as the shot clock winded down, with little movement elsewhere. Don’t expect that to remain the same: Houston will surely try to incorporate more cuts and off-ball screens to distract the defense and get some open threes and layups. The Warriors have to be ready for Houston’s mixups.
Occasionally, trap the ballhandler: The Warriors switched almost every pick and roll in Game 1. They don’t have to: the Warriors can opt to take the ball out of Paul or Harden’s hands and force the Rockets’ role players to make a play. I just don’t expect Clint Capela, Gerald Green, or Luc Mbah a Moute to always make the right offensive decision. The Warriors have enough defensive talent to manage the 4-on-3 with their rim protection and length in the passing lanes. Jeff Siegel explains this strategy in depth here.
Continue to force the role players to make plays with the ball: PJ Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Trevor Ariza were pretty useless with the ball in their hands. If you challenge the three pointer and force them to drive and either finish or pass, they will have trouble finishing in traffic and passing out of the collapsed defense.
Take Nick Young out if he’s targeted: Steve Kerr got fifteen minutes out of Nick Young in Game 1, and he hit three big threes. He usually gets punished on defense, but the Rockets opted not to isolate on him or use off-ball movement to expose his lack of awareness. Once the Rockets get the best of him a few times, Steve Kerr should pull him.
Trust in the stars: There are fewer adjustments to make on this end because the Warriors’ stars can just flat-out score against this Rockets team. Kevin Durant probably won’t hit as many isolation jump shots, and Klay Thompson probably won’t get as many open threes, but they are playing exactly the type of game they want to play. Stephen Curry had some rough outside shots, but he could get to the rim at will. Speaking of that...
TARGET JAMES HARDEN: It might be tempting to isolate against Clint Capela, the biggest man on the floor, but he’s incredibly adept at switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant should spend most of their time on offense forcing Harden to defend. Given his considerable offensive load, Harden can tire out quickly, and his already weak defensive effort can be exploited repeatedly. Stephen Curry drove around him with ease all game.
Don’t fall in love with the Kevin Durant isolation jumpers: They worked in Game 1, but sometimes the midrange jumpers don’t fall. If they stop connecting, don’t force it.
Run some Steph/KD pick and rolls: The Warriors didn’t run a single Steph/KD pick and roll, their most devastating offensive weapon, in Game 1. Although Houston will definitely switch it, it’s still an instant way to capitalize on mistakes or at the very least, get a strong mismatch.
Steve Kerr did an awesome job in Game 1, trusting in his stars to make the right plays. I have confidence that he has more answers to the Rockets than the Rockets have to the Warriors.