This article does not serve to discredit any other team in the competitive Western Conference; that being said, if there’s one team in the league that’s a shoo-in to reach the NBA Finals, it’s the Golden State Warriors. But the second seed Houston Rockets, after Saturday’s win, have beaten the Warriors in their season series and now boast a 2-1 record against the defending champions.
Many analysts and writers are calling Houston a threat to Golden State, including Houston’s own players. After Saturday’s game, center Clint Capela stated outright that the Rockets right now are “better” than the Warriors. These people and the Rockets believe that the Warriors aren’t invincible after all, which is an exciting prospect to those that have been subject to the Warriors’ success in the West for the last three years.
A tense rivalry between the two teams is budding and drama levels are high. If the two meet in the Western Conference Finals, the ensuing matchup between two intensely skilled, guns-blazing offenses is sure to produce a highly entertaining seven game series.
The Rockets and Warriors are more alike than different. Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni runs a high pace, shoot-at-will offense, guided by Chris Paul and James Harden, that has propelled Houston to lead the league in 3 point field goals, both attempted and made. Houston leads the league in Offensive Rating according to Basketball-Reference.com (the Warriors are second). Steve Kerr‘s system, run through Stephen Curry, produces a fluid style of basketball that also depends on a higher tempo and constant ball movement.
The Rockets are second in the NBA in free throw attempts per game, which can slow down the Warriors’ preferred speed of play–the Rockets shot 29 free throws in their win, and if the Warriors are having an off shooting night, undisciplined fouls will lead to a lot of free points for Houston in a slower playoff series.
The Rockets are better than the Warriors on the glass, even though the season figures don’t reflect it. Houston out-rebounded the Warriors 46-33 in Saturday night’s win. The addition of Chris Paul gives Houston more options; he is shooting more threes in D’Antoni’s system than he has before, but he’s still a pick-and-roll maestro, and he can cause problems if the Warriors’ defense isn’t clicking (it wasn’t on Saturday).
But the Warriors are the premier offensive threat in the NBA. They lead the league in field goals made and field goal percentage, and they can pour in points quickly to match the Rockets’ three point barrages. When the Warriors offense is firing on all cylinders, they can’t be stopped.
The downsides of the Warriors’ play leave room for concern, however. Turnovers have always plagued the Warriors during ugly losses; they had 19 turnovers that led to 23 Houston points. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had terrible shooting nights. Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, and Curry combined for 15 of the Warriors’ 19 turnovers, and many of them were head-scratching and carelessly bad.
Steve Kerr on the loss, blames turnovers/fouling pic.twitter.com/5Q3MPNMTxe
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) January 21, 2018
Despite an off night from the Splash Brothers, lazy passes from the starters, and an uppercut by Houston in the first half, the Warriors were in the game until the last two minutes. Granted, James Harden wasn’t 100%, even though he had a great game that included a clutch three and a clutch block, both on Curry, to seal the game. But to me, it seemed more that the Warriors lost the game than the Rockets won it.
Though the season series went 2-1 to Houston, I’m excited for these two teams to meet again in a potential Western Conference Finals–a series that, if it really comes to fruition, will be a basketball fan’s dream.
During a postgame interview, Steve Kerr said, “They deserved to win and they beat us tonight, but it doesn’t do anything to us. We feel pretty good no matter who we’re playing and where we’re playing. Actually, I feel better on the road than I do at home right now, but that’ll change. But no, we feel confident anytime.”
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