Fresh off dispatching the Los Angeles Clippers in the opening round of the 2019 NBA playoffs, the Golden State Warriors welcomed their rivals, the Houston Rockets, to the friendly confines of Oracle Arena for Game 1 of the 2019 Western Conference Semifinals. The Warriors were a little worn out and banged up after that tough series against the Clippers and so many people wondered how they would play in Game 1. Would they let their guard down and allow the Rockets to come into Oracle and steal a game?
That was not the case. Rather the challenge seem to push the Warriors to play better than they had for much of that first playoff series. Though they did lapse into occasional careless play, the Warriors played hard against a tough Rockets squad. The game was close and the outcome wasn’t clear until the final buzzer sounded. But at that moment, the Warriors were ahead as they picked up the 104-100 win in Game 1 of this best-of-seven series.
The importance of having Iguodala
When people discuss the 2018 Western Conference Finals, they have a tendency to bring up the absence of Chris Paul (an absence just about anyone could see coming when looking at the point guard’s injury history). But after Game 3 the Warriors were also without one of their most important pieces in Andre Iguodala. In Game 1 of the 2019 Western Conference Semifinals, Iguodala reminded everyone of what he can bring to a team, especially a team playing against the Rockets.
Inserted into the starting lineup as Warriors head coach Steve Kerr elected to begin the game with his “Hamptons 5” lineup on the court, Iguodala played very well in Game 1. Iguodala scored 14 points in the win while going 6/7 from the field. Iguodala also grabbed 4 rebounds and handed out 2 assists in his nearly 35 minutes of game action.
Two of Iguodala’s 14 points came on this dunk that pushed the Warriors advantage to five points with three minutes left in the game.
Just as he did against Lou Williams and the Clippers in the opening round, Iguodala also helped to contain the Rockets’ best offensive weapon—James Harden. Harden was held in check in Game 1... well, as held in check as he can be. Harden did score 35 points but he did so by shooting 9/28 from the field and from 4/16 from three-point range. Harden did do some damage at the free-throw line (going 13/14 from the charity stripe) but Iguodala helped to limit what damage Harden could inflict and that was key to the Warriors securing this victory.
A quick word on fouls
This is probably a good opportunity to talk about the complaints that the officials missed many a foul call, especially on Harden, that could have impacted the game. A few things come to mind. There were instances where an official could have called a foul or might have during the regular season. But in the playoffs, referees are more inclined to let marginal contact (and fouls that are called because of flopping and overselling by the players) go.
On just about every one of those non-calls in question, the Rockets shooter was not performing a natural shooting motion. They were, in essence, throwing themselves at the defender as they took the shot. Had the Rockets’ shooter gone up and down, as one does normally, they would have had plenty of room to land safely.
Finally, as one who has seen opponents grab and tackle and push Warriors players while the whistles remain silent, I don’t have too much sympathy for those protestations. The fact of the matter is this—the Rockets did not lose this game because of the officials, they lost it because they couldn’t do the things necessary for a win. The fact that the Rockets are more interested in arguing about that officiating rather than considering what they could have done better to win this game (they had their chances) should tell you a lot about that team.
Draymond’s stellar playoffs continue
If you’re going to talk about the Warriors playing better defense (which they did on Sunday afternoon, holding the Rockets to 100 points and 41.9% shooting and 29.8% from three-point range), of course you have to talk about Draymond Green. Green possessed the same energy and intensity he displayed in Game 6 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Clippers. Green was there as a help defender when it came to slowing down Harden or Chris Paul. Green also played a role in marginalizing the Rockets’ big man in Clint Capella. Capella played just 27 minutes and posted a team-low plus/minus of -17 in his team’s Game 1 loss.
In addition to defense, Green also scored 14 points while handing out 9 assists and grabbing 9 rebounds, falling just assist and rebound short of the all-important triple-double (it must be all-important if people keep talking about Russell Westbrook with any kind of reverence).
Eight of Green’s points came in the first quarter, when he was the only player who could score consistently as the Warriors held a nine-point advantage after the first frame.
Green is playing his best basketball of the season right now, which should be a frightening proposition to all the other teams that still remain in the playoffs.
Durant keeps working, secures a victory for his team
Kevin Durant struggled in the first half of Sunday afternoon’s game. Guarded by the tenacious P.J. Tucker for much of the first half, Durant scored just 11 points on 5/13 shooting in the first half while frequently getting his pocket picked by Tucker and Eric Gordon. On the inaugural episode of “Dr. Tom and the Gold Blooded King,” I talked about how I thought Durant’s quickness would make it difficult for Tucker to handle guarding him (thus making the Rockets wish they'd hung onto Trevor Ariza). After one game, I can comfortable acknowledge that I was wrong and Tucker is someone who can make things difficult for even an all-time great scorer like Durant.
In the second half, though Tucker and the Rockets still made things tough for him, Durant shot 6/12 from the field to score 24 of his 35 points. 15 of those 24 second-half points came in the third quarter as Durant helped the Warriors possess a seven-point lead at the end of the third.
Durant also made sure to attack the basket, drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line. In the second half, Durant attempted 15 free-throws and made 12 of them.
Durant’s prolific playoff scoring of late (this was his fifth-straight playoff game with 30+ points) led his head coach to place him in some pretty special company.
Steve Kerr asked if he’s seen anyone play as well as Kevin Durant has recently. Kerr: “There’s this guy named Michael.....”— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) April 28, 2019
Durant gave his team that lead, making sure the Warriors had a little cushion between them and the Rockets. But then it was Stephen Curry who stepped in and delivered the dagger that secured a Game 1 win for the Warriors.
Sloppy play keeps Rockets in game
Despite outplaying the Rockets for large stretches of Sunday afternoon, Game 1 was a back-and-forth affair with 8 lead changes, 7 ties, and neither team holding a double-digit advantage. The primary reason that the Rockets were able to stay in this game were courtesy of Warriors’ turnovers.
The Warriors turned it over a remarkable 20 times in Game 1, the third time already this postseason that they’ve turned the ball over 20+ times. Meanwhile, the Warriors had 20+ turnovers in a game just 4 times in the entire 2018-19 regular season. Those 20 turnovers resulted in 20 Rockets’ points, allowing them to stay in a game that they should not have otherwise have been in. Durant turned the ball over six times in the game while Green gave it away five times. The Warriors’ starting backcourt Curry and Klay Thompson each had three turnovers of their own.
This might be where the quick turn-around from Game 6 of the Clippers series came into play, that little bit of fatigue leading to the metal error. Hopefully getting a little more time to rest as well as getting acclimated to the way the Rockets want to play will mean fewer turnovers in the remaining games in this series.