After their impressive Game 1 victory, the Warriors looked to take a commanding 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday night. For the Rockets, Game 2 was a must-win game as they desperately needed to salvage a split in these initial home games. Not surprisingly, the Rockets played with desperation and intensity while the Warriors, for long stretches at least, looked like a team content to have won one road game and ready to head back home for Game 3. That was evident in the game’s final score as the Rockets blew out the Warriors, winning 127-105 to even up the Western Conference Finals at one game apiece.
Early turnovers make for a bad start
While the Warriors were poised and in control on Monday night, they did not start Wednesday night’s game in a similar fashion. Gone was the team that looked like it had flipped the switch and had a laser-like focus on the task at hand. In its place was the Warriors team we saw during stretches of the regular season, displaying a proclivity for turning the ball over and making careless plays.
In the first half, the Warriors had 11 turnovers, while they had nine total turnovers on Monday night. The Rockets took advantage of those Warriors turnovers, converting them into the fast break points that they were unable to get in Game 1.
While the Warriors are well-equipped to overcome slow starts and take a team’s best punch, the poor start to Game 2 was a particularly unfortunate one. The Warriors had the Rockets somewhat on the ropes after that impressive Game 1 victory. By turning the ball over and allowing the Rockets to get their offense up and running, the Warriors gave confidence to a team in desperate need of it.
Offensive struggles stymie the Warriors
Another issue for the Warriors was their struggling offense, especially from three-point range. The Warriors shot an abysmal 30% from long distance in Wednesday night’s game, not making their first three-pointer until the second quarter. Stephen Curry had a particularly rough night, shooting 1/8 from three-point range and not making that first three-pointer until late in the game. Curry scored just 16 points (though he also had 7 assists) as he looked ever-so-slightly off for the second straight game.
However, Curry did continue to do one good thing from Game 1—attacking the basket, like he did on this play, getting around Clint Capela early in Game 2.
But it wasn’t just Curry who struggled offensively. Klay Thompson scored just 8 points, taking quite a few bad shots while not getting the open looks he saw during Game 1. Draymond Green looked hesitant to shoot, which led to him overpassing and thus creating more turnovers. David West missed quite a few baskets from point-blank range during his six minutes of playing time.
The only Warriors player who could get anything going offensively was, yet again, Kevin Durant. Durant scored 38 points on Wednesday night, one more than his Game 1 output. Again, the Rockets didn’t seem to have a defensive answer for Durant and appeared to be employing a similar strategy to what the Warriors did with James Harden in Game 1. The Rockets were comfortable with Durant getting whatever he wanted as long as they shut down everyone else.
The Rockets deserve a great deal of credit for the Warriors’ offensive woes. They looked better and more energized defensively on Wednesday night. But a lot of the shots the Warriors didn’t make are ones that they usually do. Sometimes it can be as simple as that, shots not falling and that creating enough of an opening for the opposing team to take advantage. Speaking of which...
The Rockets’ supporting cast steps up
While Harden had a strong game (27 points, 10 rebounds) and Chris Paul came up with some shots in crucial moments, perhaps the biggest reason for the Rockets’ Game 2 win was the performance of some of their other players— P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, and Trevor Ariza.
Tucker scored a career-high 22 points on Wednesday night, including going 5/6 from three-point range. Tucker scored just a single point and struggled mightily in Game 1. In Game 2, Tucker looked like the difference maker the Rockets wanted to sign this past offseason and made things very difficult for the Warriors.
Ariza also made up for a lackluster Game 1 of his own, scoring 19 points and shooting 7/9 from the field in Game 2. Coming off the bench, Gordon built on his good performance in Game 1 by scoring 27 points in Game 2, including going 6/9 from long distance. Gordon had been struggling in the past few playoff games when it came to his three-point shooting, but on Wednesday night he had a more typical performance for him.
When the Rockets get that kind of productive out of their non-Harden or Paul players, they are a tough team to beat. Whether it was because of a change in the Warriors defensive strategy or the Rockets just playing better, those players were able to get going on Wednesday night. As The Athletic’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss tweeted, the Warriors should go back to their plan of focusing on shutting down those complementary pieces.
Warriors would rather Harden go off than the complementary players get involved. Guess there's something to that https://t.co/t4LZA2Zots— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) May 17, 2018
Role reversal in Game 2
Game 2 was like a photographic negative of Game 1 as everything was reversed. The Rockets were the team who looked much more interesting in passing and having players move without the ball while the Warriors played at a slower pace and ran more iso plays on offense. One need not look further than the fact that the Rockets out-assisted the Warriors (23-21, but the Warriors picked a couple of those assists in the final minutes of the game when the outcome had been determined).
This swap also happened on the defensive end as the Rockets did a better job contesting shots while the Warriors left the lane wide open numerous times, allowing the Rockets to get easy baskets. While the Warriors played with a great deal of intensity on defense during Game 1, they looked lax and unfocused in Game 2.
There are a lot of things that could account for this—the Warriors feeling a little too good after that Game 1 win, the Rockets getting angry after hearing people say the series was over after one game, bad luck for the Warriors and good luck for the Rockets.
Nevertheless, the Western Conference Finals are tied up at 1-1 as things shift to Oakland for Games 3 and 4. The Warriors still look to be in control of the series, possessing the homecourt advantage and dropping Game 2 due to unusually great games from members of the Rockets’ supporting cast. That said, the Rockets have made this into a series again and look to have regained some of the momentum they lost after Game 1.
Game 3 on Sunday should be very interesting. I can’t wait for it to start.
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