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Warriors Rockets Game 2 preview: The other side of the hot stove

With all eyes on the fickle nature of referee calls, Golden State should focus on play.

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NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors
Those who have faith in Threesus, shall surely be rewarded.

One game closer to their ultimate goal, the Golden State Warriors will take the court at Oracle once again against the Houston Rockets. With Golden State narrowly surviving an extremely tough Houston team in game one, both sides came away knowing there were aspects of the game that they could do better.

It seems like the ankles of both Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry are alright, but no word yet on the availability of Austin Rivers for the Rockets, who missed game one with an illness.

Most vocally, the Rockets came away with a raging need to talk about what they see as systemic favoritism from the refs — an oddly unaware pivot from where the Warriors have been just a few weeks back.

GAME DETAILS

WHAT: Game 2, Western Conference Semifinals

WHO: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets (Warriors lead series 1-0)

WHEN: Tuesday, April 30; 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Oracle Arena — Oakland, CA

WATCH: TNT

RADIO: 95.7 The Game

Blog Buddy: The Dream Shake

Manspreading and landing zones

Despite waiting all season for this matchup, the narrative has not-so-inexplicably shifted to the refereeing after the Rockets’ loss. Leaking selective and misleading information (once you manipulate it, the “data” becomes information not data any longer), Houston has managed to pull the storyline away from another subpar performance from James Harden and another bad shooting night from deep for the Rockets in general.

Lost in all this: we still don’t really have a clear idea of where these fouls start and stop. HAVE WE ALREADY FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE HOT STOVE CONTACT?

Here we have, almost exactly one month ago, the NBA telling us that if marginal contact is ok? This is not a foul:

So yes. Absolutely protect our players. But how many times do we see Durant, Thompson and Curry with defenders feet “in their landing space?”

The NBA is being asked to toe a dangerously thin line by the Houston Rockets. Watch that play above. The NBA’s official response was:

Okogie (MIN) makes marginal ‘hot-stove’ contact with Curry’s (GSW) leg after the release of his jump shot attempt and does not affect his ability to land safely.”

The NBA is saying “yes, there was contact” but “it’s not a foul because Curry didn’t get hurt.”

Let that sink in for a second, please.

As shown below, you can either see a perfectly normal jump shot, or a really egregious failed flop that results in yet another missed three pointer. Or, marginal contact. Like the NFL’s quandary about what a catch is, the can of worms has been opened.

This absolutely sucks. So here’s hoping we get to watch some basketball, and not just an extended Zapruder film on NBA ref interpretation of what a landing zone really is.

Strengths and weaknesses from game one — Warriors

First, the bad.

The Warriors were somewhat lucky to escape this game with a win. Coming in nursing sprained ankles, both Curry and Thompson were questionable. Thompson in particular was a game time decision on an ankle injury bad enough to warrant an MRI. And it showed.

Curry struggled all game (3-of-10 on 3-pointers with 18 points) as did Klay Thompson (13 points on 5-of-13 shooting). Both of those lines can safely be expected to be outliers, but we’ll have to see if the Rockets adjust their coverage. Like most teams, they still heavily lean towards taking Curry away, but after getting blitzed by Kevin Durant in the previous game they’ll have some tough defensive choices to make — but more on that later.

Another potential concern: the three point shot attempt discrepancy. We’ve covered this ad nauseum, but the stylistic battle between the Warriors’ pass-happy offense and the “pound it into your face” spamming of threes that the Rockets employ is still pretty fascinating. In game one, the Warriors took fewer threes (22 total) than the Rockets missed (33 out of their 47 total attempts).

The Good

Defensively, the Warriors are doing well against Houston. As we like to say around here, it’s a design feature not a bug. Check out the historical inertia here:

Much of this is just from the strength of our individual players. Thompson, Iguodala, Green and Durant are all significant impediments to the Rockets’ effective, but predictable attack. For a team that relies so strongly on one or two players at a time, running into a matchup where your opponent has legitimate counters can make your executives go waddling to the media with poorly constructed pleas for easier foul calls.

Iguodala in particular continues to be a phenomenal answer to Harden’s ball pounding ways. In game one he held Harden to just nine points on 37 possessions — which works out to an offensive team rating of around 91 points per 100 possessions (not good).

But another aspect of Harden’s struggles are designed; as Ethan Strauss points out, the opening nine plays Golden State ran in game one were directly targeting Harden:

“I think you always want to make him work,” Kerr explained of the game’s beginning. “Anybody like that who’s a great offensive player, just like everybody does with Steph, they put him in screen-and-roll, because he’s so good on offense. You want his legs to wear down. So we do that with James.”

Kerr continued, “We have to make him guard because he’s got such a burden on his shoulders offensively. We’ve got to make it as difficult for him as possible.”

Speaking of offense, Durant was (once again) phenomenal. Though he did cough up six of the teams’ 20 turnovers, his offensive prowess is still unassailable, prompting Kerr to dredge up memories of Michael Jordan while looking for a comparison. 35 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, but nothing as gold blooded as his destruction of James Harden’s defense down the stretch.

Those turnovers came from added pressure, generally from an extra defender, so keep an eye on the Rockets’ adjustments. It may behoove Houston to move some assets from stopping Curry in order to try and slow Durant’s groove.

Strengths and weaknesses from game one - Rockets

PJ Tucker (aka, The Tuck Wagon) won over a lot of Warriors fans in the playoffs last year with his heady, stout defensive play and no-nonsense offense. As per Shane Young, he was also incredibly effective while defending Durant.

This is great news for the Rockets. Though they’ll have to continue to work for this specific matchup, it’s no small comfort to know that the team has at least a marginally acceptable option for defending Durant — much less this sort of elite defensive impact.


CP3 hot stoves the ref

As far as weaknesses go, the Rockets obviously shot terribly, but as we pointed out above, that’s hardly an isolated incident against the (mostly) stalwart defense of the playoff Warriors. The fact that this game was within reach despite both Harden and Chris Paul shooting horribly is a testament to how seriously Golden State should take this team in game two.

But really, the biggest play for Houston happened yesterday when the league declined to suspend Paul for something that looked pretty bad at first glance. As the game wound to a close, Paul fumbled the ball away, and then seemed to stumble towards the ref and gesticulate wildly while placing his hands on the ref. Here’s the play:

Apparently, that’s just some hot stove contact. Personally, I’m just happy Houston didn’t get another item to add to their laundry list of imagined gripes. Though... of course the team tried to get the actual technical rescinded - in keeping with their mantra of “nothing is fair.”

Predictions

Even though I predicted a seven game series, I think the Warriors win game two. Obviously foul trouble could rear it’s ugly head, but I just have a sense that the Warriors are focused and know that the Rockets are potent enough to not overlook.

Or, the NBA tosses out the Hot Stove rules, and everything’s a foul. Both teams foul completely out of the game by the 2nd quarter and everyone calls it a tie.

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