The Golden State Warriors took an uncharacteristic drubbing at the hands of the Houston Rockets 127-105 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. This series was hyped over the moon and it has certainly lived up to its lofty expectations so far, as both teams have shown dominance. In Game 1, the Warriors, on the back of Kevin Durant, dismantled the isolation heavy Rockets. James Harden took more dribbles than the Warriors Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson combined. Harden’s sheer volume of dribbles created chances for turnovers and bad shots, and the Warriors capitalized. In Game 2, the strategy for the Rockets pivoted completely. Gone was the iso heavy offense and enter Warriors-esque ball movement, in which the Rockets had 23 assists, and could easily have been more. A huge improvement on the boards also created more opportunities for the Rockets to score, as the out-rebounded Golden State 47-36. In Game 2, the Rockets showed they can be legit. In Game 3, they have to prove it.
In order for Golden State to win Game 3, these are 3 keys:
- Keep the ball moving
- Get Steph going
- Increase defensive intensity
1. In Game 1, the Warriors dished out 24 assists, including 8 from Stephen Curry and 9 from Draymond Green. Their ball movement is touted as potentially the greatest of all time, rivaling only the “Showtime” Lakers. Golden State must keep finding the open man and creating open shots for 3 of the greatest shooters of all time: Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson. What I noticed going from Game 1 to Game 2 is that the Warriors became almost reliant on KD’s iso scoring, very much like the Rockets model that failed in Game 1. He received the ball in the post with 20 seconds on the shot clock and go to work. This, although fairly effective (KD dropped 37 points on over 50% shooting), is not the Warriors style of play. They play best when the Splash Brothers work off of each other, setting screens and getting each other open. Their style is when Draymond is the main facilitator, orchestrating back cuts, throwing lobs and finding open guys for 3. Without their trademark ball movement, it will be tough for the Warriors to win.
2. Stephen Curry is the cog that keeps the Warriors going. I wrote an earlier article about his importance, and it is showing in this series. Curry went for 18/6/8 on 8/15 shooting in Game 1, a productive but not quite “Chef Curry” line. In Game 2, Curry had a similar line, 16/7/7, but shot 7/19 from the field and 1/8 from 3. Also, another interesting note, Curry only shot a single free throw in Game 2 after averaging around 6 attempts from the line in the regular season. Curry must find a way to impact the game on the offensive side of the ball for the Warriors to win. It does not have to necessarily be scoring the ball, but facilitating for his teammates and proving the Rockets he can make his trademark 30-footers will stretch out the defense and create more open looks for his teammates.
3. The Warriors have struggled with an effort problem for much of the regular season, and it has come out in the playoffs. In losses to the Spurs and Pelicans in the previous two rounds, Golden State struggled mightily on defense. As is a trend in most of their losses, their defensive intensity is lackluster, leaving guys open for jumpshots or layups. When on, the Warriors defense is worldly, with impeccable defensive rotations and two elite shot blockers, Durant and Draymond, patrolling the paint and protecting the rim. Without intensity and rotations, the Warriors are very beatable.
If the Warriors want to win Game 3, these 3 keys must happen. If not, it could spell the end for one of the most dominant teams of all time.