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Preview: Warriors return to Oakland for critical Game 3 against the Rockets

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The first two games of the Western Conference Finals showcased the best and worst of both teams. Game 3 is time for the cream to rise to the top.

Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets - Game Two Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Game Details

Who: Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors

What: Game 3, 2018 Western Conference Finals

When: 5:00 p.m. PST

Where: Oracle Arena — Oakland, CA

TV: TNT, NBCBA

Game 3

Game 2 in Houston wasn’t a ton of fun. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson never got it going on offense, Draymond Green was a step behind defensively and Kevin Durant was left to pick up of the pieces on both ends of the floor. Game 2 looked like an inverted Game 1. Rather than darting passes around the hardwood, the Warriors offense forced Kevin Durant to isolate himself often. Also, the defense was a step behind for most of the game.

Meanwhile, the Rockets executed their game plan to perfection. P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon nailed 11 of 15 three pointers, Chris Paul boasted the best game of anyone on the floor and James Harden did James Harden things. A combination of luck (e.g. P.J. Tucker), stingy perimeter defense and fast breaks broke the Dubs in the second half.

The Rockets needed to win on Wednesday night, and they did. As of today, both teams have had three days off, a luxury in the playoffs. When the Warriors lose as they did on Wednesday, more of than not, they return with a better sense of themselves.

Three keys to Game 3

Find the open shooter, stay true to Kerr-ism.

Durant has powered the Warriors the first two games. It is clear that nobody on the Rockets can stop Durant’s mid-range game. In his latest podcast, the Athletic’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted that there were a handful of moments in Game 2 where Durant had some tunnel vision towards the hoop on offense. In moments when Thompson and Curry are open, they need the ball. An open three from either of them is the best shot for the team. This is not assigning blame to Durant. He’s the reason the Warriors didn’t lose by 50 in Game 2.

However, since Curry’s return, if he hasn’t gotten going early (he’s 1-13 from three in the first two games), he’s resorted to shot hunting. A few early, open three attempts off a pick and roll, or screens, could do wonders for Curry and the Warriors in Game 3. If Curry starts slow behind the arc, the Warriors can’t resort to playing iso-ball like the Rockets, which they did Game 2. The ball must keep moving.

Help defense

I understand that complaining about Draymond Green’s defense is akin to criticizing Meghan Markle’s wedding look yesterday. Both are nearly perfect, but as life goes, we have our flaws. Green didn’t show up in Game 2 with his usual x-factor on defense (Meghan brought the fire though Saturday morning).

Let me explain. Curry was more engaged than I’ve ever seen him on defense in Game 2. James Harden is an incredibly tough player to guard though and he will inevitably beat Curry off the dribble. More often than not, Green is the next line of defense. There were moments in Game 2 when Green wasn’t committed to supporting Curry (he almost always is). If Green can disrupt Harden and Paul’s game in the paint, the Warriors can force turnovers and get out in the open court. It’s likely that this will be the final gripe of the season about Green’s defense.

Who will be the Warrior’s fourth scorer?

The Warriors can easily win if Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant all score. In Game 3, Curry could score 45 or his recent cold streak could continue. He’s clearly not 100% right now.

With or without Curry playing like an MVP, it’s a lot easier to win if other players can contribute. In Game 1, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Nick Young combined for 27 points. In Game 2, they combined for 16 points. If two of those players can combine for 16 to 20 points, the Warriors will be nearly impossible to beat.

Like success for Thompson and Curry, bench scoring rides on the Warriors staying true to themselves and keeping the ball moving.

The Rockets benefitted from a lot of luck in Game 2. Shots like this went in.

This isn’t going to continue. Especially at Oracle.

Prediction: Warriors 108 - Rockets 100