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Warriors vs. Rockets Western Conference semifinals mega preview

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Klay Thompson’s ankle “still pretty bad” and Thompson and Stephen Curry are “questionable” for game 1

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Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets - Game Seven
And thusly, Threesus rose above an inferior foe with a superior beard

In some ways, it’s better that the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are meeting earlier in the playoffs this year, rather than having to wait for the Conference Finals. Why is this happening? Well, because neither team had an exceptional regular season. Though the Warriors did finish with the top seed, it was a bumpy road; and the Rockets fumbled into the fourth seed after battling through early injuries.

Unfortunately, Golden State’s failure to close out the Los Angeles Clippers was a costly slip up. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both rolled their ankles Friday night — sending the already short-handed Warriors into their biggest battle of the season at less than full strength.

GAME DETAILS:

Who: Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets (Series tied 0-0)

Where: Oracle Arena — Oakland, CA

When, Sunday, April 28th; 12:30pm

Watch: ABC

Blog Buddy: The Dream Shake

Ankles away

By far the biggest question heading into game one of the Western conference semifinals is about those ankles. Here’s the play where Curry got hurt — note that both Thompson’s and Curry’s ankles are completely rolled (where your ankle bone hits the floor), which can be one of the trickiest types to gauge because of the bruising combined with the sprain. Currently, both are listed as questionable.

Thompson’s ankle is reportedly more concerning. Thompson, who plays a significant role in the team’s pick and roll defense, would be sorely missed. The bigger concern situation is if he decides to go at something less than 100%, ends up being a detriment, and then further exacerbates the injury — or at a minimum slows the healing. Via Marcus Thomson of The Athletic:

With only about a day and a half between the game six win over the Clippers and game one against the Rockets, this is a tight timeline. But as Marcus Thompson has said:

Of course, this is Klay Thompson we’re talking about. He might just let Rocco lick it a few times, sunbathe it a bit and play anyway. Whenever it seems there is no way Thompson can play — such as when J.R. Smith crashed into his knee in Game 2 of the Finals last year — he ends up back on the court.

This is, sadly, a trend. Unfortunately/fortunately, while we had to hear the noises from Houston decrying the annual breakdown of Chris Paul’s tenuous relationship with his hamstrings for a solid year, no one will care much that the Warriors are without two starting Centers, and both of our starting guards are limping into this series.

The significant statistics

This is a tough one to evaluate. The Warriors have spent 70 percent of the season playing at 70 percent and the Rockets entire game plan is designed around spamming three pointers and isolations. Those plays work (Harden’s drives are converted into points and the threes fall for the Rockets) and this could easily be the toughest team the Warriors have faced in the Kerr era.

The Utah Jazz held Harden to just .529 TS%, well below his season average of .616. It was something of a gimmick defense, but expect the Warriors to take note of how uncomfortable Harden was when shaded to deter him from going to his dominant left hand.

For Golden State, it will once again come down to their defense. Offensively, the team has been thrumming. Like a good punk rock song, it’s not that they’re using every single octave, but the “four chords and the truth” basketball equivalent of Curry and Kevin Durant has looked nearly unstoppable.

Via NBA.com, Durant is the leading scorer in the playoffs, at 35 points per game. Even better, he’s done so on a murderous .719 TS%. Curry isn’t far behind in either category with 24.7 points per game on an equally impressive .710 TS%. Even better, the two play as well together as any other two players in the league. As Steph Curry told The Athletic, the inclusion of Kevin Durant has allowed the Warriors to accept a changing NBA defensive landscape — rather than wilting though, they’ve bent. Supple like the reeds, rather than rigid:

“The game is entirely different,” Curry said, lifting up his head to remove the shadow from his eyes. “People defend us differently. You’re going to adjust with it or you’re going to fight it and the ego is going to chip in and say, ‘you need to get your 25 shots no matter what.’ I have the same intent and focus and energy — but the way it looks, the way it looks on the stat sheet, all that stuff is entirely different.”

The Rockets are a significantly better defensive team, but PJ Tucker can’t be everywhere. And with Trevor Ariza gone, it will be interesting to see how well the Rockets can contain our superstars.

As old friend of the blog, Patrick Murray wrote — the lessons from last year’s playoffs is that defense, not offense, could well be the deciding factor:

After splitting the first games in Houston, Golden State put the clamps on from Game Three onwards. The Rockets totalled 85, 95, 94, 86, and 92 points in the final five games of that series. The real reason the Rockets took the Warriors to seven games was because they held the Warriors to lower point totals in two of those games. It was the Rockets defense, not their offense, that kept them in that series.

The prediction

As much as it pains me, I simply cannot predict a sweep in good faith. The Rockets are too good, the Warriors to unsteady. Complicating matters further, the Warriors are yet again banged up. Without our two main starting centers, they’re already entering at less than full strength, toss in a couple of bum ankles... The loss of DeMarcus Cousins in particular hurts, since he was a player that the Rockets couldn’t really counter with their roster.

Anyways: Warriors in 7.

A basic six game Warriors series win, with an extra game thrown in to account for the inertia of a wobbly season. In the end though, the champs have the talent and experience.