Despite what may have been the “best series,” – I still contend that it would have been Spurs/Warriors – this is the series we’ve been waiting for in the West. The MVP vs. the Runner-Up. As many have started to put it, both seriously and jokingly, good vs. evil. Beautiful vs. ugly. The public has gone rabid for the Golden State Warrior style of basketball, while fans have groaned at the long and boring, though effective, style of the Houston Rockets.
I had a good-hearted discussion about momentum recently. I’m undecided on it, but if there is one thing that the Warriors need to avoid, it is late-game momentum shifts for Houston. What I mean by that is Houston plays the percentages. If they’re staying in the game but missing shots then chances are that they’re going to start hitting them eventually. It’s not fool-proof, but it can shift the “momentum” at the end of a game in the Rockets favor.
Keys to the Series
- Get inside. If Dwight Howard finds himself in foul trouble during this series, the Rockets are all but gone. Howard played very well defensively, some would say close to vintage levels, in the last series and they will need that rim protection from him again. But, the Warriors are a jump shooting team in name only and have the ability to get inside and force Howard to make a decision, risky block attempt that could lead to a foul, or let the player into the lane. Whichever he chooses will more likely benefit the Warriors by the end of the game, see if he has the stones to take the risk and the skill to succeed on those risks.
- Stay in your game. This is a nice way of saying, “don’t get complacent.” The Clippers may not have given up per se, despite losing a 3-1 series lead. But they certainly didn’t keep their foot on the gas. The formerly-Tom Thibodeau led bulls showed the blueprint for this (probably to an extreme) against the Milwaukee Bucks in round one. The Warriors have the ability to finish off the Rockets in similar 120-60 style fashion. Not likely, but possible. Keep the pedal down and don’t give the Rockets a chance to let the percentages even out.
- Get the front court in foul trouble. Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green are the defensive cornerstones for this team’s #1 regular season defense. The versatility of Green allows them to hide their “weaker” defenders, even though weaker is a relative term here. Bogut is simply a fantastic rim protector, though you might not guess it. His size is obvious, but it’s his positioning and smarts that keep the lane closed. Harden, as we all know, has the magic powers of foul drawing. I’ll say it again, he’s a sorcerer. He needs to get into the lane and charge into the chest of Bogut and Green hoping for some foul calls. Howard can do his part down low as well, but the magic must come from the hands of Harden.
- Take your shots. Simply put, get in the lane, shoot the three. The Rockets squeaked through round two against the Clippers and will have to play much more consistently to be able to take the Conference from the season long favorites. One last time, say it with me now, the percentages. They will play out for a win or two, but they need to find a way to hit those shots consistently. This isn’t a switch of course, they’re always trying to sink those shots, but for lack of an analytical way to say it, they need to.
When Tony Allen was closing off the pressure valve that was Klay Thompson, the Warriors were struggling to start the series against Memphis. It was only 64 minutes without Thompson against the Grizzlies, but in that span the Warriors offense jumped from 103.3 per 100 possessions to 108.8 with Thompson off the court. There are factors here, Thompson coming off often means that Curry and the starters are coming off. Then it is bench units and the Grizzlies may have staggered starter minutes more. But, if the Rockets can hound Thompson with someone like Trevor Ariza or possibly (possibly) Corey Brewer, then they might be able to find a similar offensive frustration.
I believe in Houston. I believe they are much better than we want to give them credit for because they are miserable to watch. However, this is the Warriors and they have been too dominant consistently compared to the stretches of dominance that Houston has shown.
Warriors in 6