Well, here we are.
The Warriors are one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals, where LeBron James awaits, like the final boss on a kung fu movie. But before we get to that, Golden State needs to fight their way past the great Beard Face and his red-shirted minions.
We can. And we will.
A strategic showdown
While there are some commonalities (both teams switch everything on defense, both have a high-powered offensive attack) there are some key strategic differences that will define the outcome today.
The Rockets offense is a fundamentally different beast than the one put in place by Steve Kerr. Rather than a motion-heavy, pass-first attack, Houston is inherently an isolation offense. Clearing space for either James Harden or Eric Gordon to attack their defender one-on-one off the dribble.
In contrast, if the Rockets’ offense is a pyramid, the Warriors’ is a circle. Rather than one man on top of everything, the Warriors run an egalitarian offense predicated on a shared responsibility: get the best shot - regardless of who takes it or where it comes from. Generally that comes from Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, or Klay Thompson - with good reason.
While the Rockets are running just a seven man rotation (limited to an extent by the absence of Chris Paul), the Warriors typically go much deeper into their bench. So far this has been the most critical design difference, and one that could very well decide the series.
Injury updates? Hah! Yeah right...
Sorry folks, nothing new to report. Kevon Looney is listed as “doubtful” along with Andre Iguodala. At this point, it sounds like Looney is more likely to play, but be prepared for the Warriors to go into this battle without either... or maybe both will play. Who knows? This is exciting right!? ....right?
Injury report for tomorrow night's Game 7: Patrick McCaw (lumbar spine recovery) is probable. Kevon Looney (sore left toe) & Andre Iguodala (left lateral leg contusion) are questionable.— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) May 27, 2018
Things are a bit less opaque on the Rockets’ side. Chris Paul is listed as doubtful, but will be a game time decision. You’ve got to imagine that even if he does manage to return, it will be in a greatly diminished capacity.
Looking at the final adjustments
After the last game, Draymond Green cryptically stated that the Warriors had “figured something out.” Be sure and read Eric Apricot’s fantastic analysis, and Hugo Kitano’s strategic final tweaks - but here are my thoughts for what the Warriors’ priorities should be tonight.
Will the Rockets keep trying to attack Curry?
Don’t look now, but believe it or not, Curry has not been the easy target that Houston thinks he is:
It seems like a funny hill to die on, but the NBA is a petty, petty place. Will Houston keep going after Curry even though there are softer defenders? Yes, of course they will. As long as he can somewhat hold his ground defensively, the Warriors will mostly live with this matchup and wait for Harden’s legs to wither along with the shooting percentage of his marginalized teammates.
Can the Warriors play their game?
I’ve talked about it already, but I think Kerr is quietly waging a battle for the Warriors’ soul. It’s more than just what Apricot was talking about in his article - there is a deep struggle going on right now with the coach at the epicenter of a battle between the Warriors pass happy way, and the way Durant gets his points. Kevin Durant came here to play Warriors basketball, but when things get tight in the playoffs, he’s reverted to historical patterns. Sometimes, these shots are all that keeps us moving past the first round, but now it looks like we’ve seen the breaking point and know how to play our game.
We know that the Warriors are better when they play their brand of basketball; we just need Durant to buy into it - all the way. The Rockets are fronting a lot of passes, and challenging threes hard - two problems easily solved with off ball movement.
We know they can both score, but just look at this dump pass for Thompson to Shaun Livingston in game six from Anthony Slater of the Athletic.
Willing movement, willing pass.
Also watch for the Warriors to continue pushing the pace. James Harden is shooting 26% from deep in the series so far. His TS%, a measure of overall efficiency, is only .547, sixth on the team. With a series-high usage of 37% of plays used on the floor, Harden is a focal point of everything Houston does that makes them dangerous - wearing him down may well have been Kerr’s top priority all series long.
Who gets to face Lebron James?
Legacies are built one game at a time. But the cumulative impact of these moments are what defines a player’s legacy.
Curry and the Warriors are chasing James, like everyone is - the man is incredible. He’s done his part by beating the Celtics last night and coming out of the east (like he always does), dragging a hand-selected rag tag group along with him . One more win and Steph Curry could have as many rings as James. But something tells me Lebron James is far from willing to just concede.
James Harden has legacy issues of his own, and you really cannot understate how critical of a moment this is for him. A win - especially one that comes behind a dominant performance-will erase years of abuse. Anything beyond it wouldn’t matter as much; if he drags the Rockets, without Chris Paul, past the Warriors tonight, then he’ll have done enough to assuage any external and internal doubts for a long time.
Another disappointing playoff exit though? Disastrous.
They have to do this. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green willed us through game six, and I agree that maybe the Warriors have figured some things out... But we’ll see.
Those back-to-back blowouts in games two and three messed up my calculus. The Rockets beat us by 22 points, and hung a pretty nasty first quarter on us in game six before the Warriors stabilized.
But they did stabilize, and so they’ll remain. We got it figured out now; Warriors’ ball for the win.
Warriors 112 - Rockets 104.