The much-anticipated rematch between the Golden State Warriors (57-25) and Houston Rockets (53-29) is upon us. Less than a year after surviving a Game 7 on the road, the Warriors reclaimed home court advantage throughout the Western Conference. Now, they will host the Rockets in Game 1 on Sunday afternoon.
The Rockets earned a first-round series victory over the Utah Jazz in five games. The (4-1) elimination did not come without some turmoil. The Rockets went up (3-0) in the series. They blew out the Jazz in the first two home games. They had a 42 point advantage after Game 2. However, the Jazz actually outscored the Rockets in the last three games of the series. Fortunately, the Rockets were still able to win 2 out of the last 3 games to seal the deal. More importantly, the Rockets were able to earn extra rest before the start of round 2.
Meanwhile, the Warriors had a chance to finish out the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5. Instead, they had to hold off the competitive Clippers in Game 6. The Warriors also lost a pair of home games in the first-round series. As a result, they haven’t earned a home victory since Game 1 of the playoffs. Yet, they won all three playoff road games thus far.
The extra game also created extra benefits for the Rockets. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each twisted their ankles in the closeout victory. They should be able to play in the opener, but the quick turnaround should be a concern for the Warriors. They would have been home relaxing if they brought the same defensive intensity throughout the first-round. Instead, their fluctuation in play may be the Warriors’ downfall.
James Harden leads the Rockets with 27.8 points, 8 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game in the postseason. He also averaged 2.2 steals and 1.4 blocks against the Jazz. However, Harden struggled in the last three games. He only shot 37.4 percent from the field in the first-round. Moreover, Harden shot 35 percent from 3-point range in the series.
Chris Paul was not better in the shooting category. Paul only connected on 21.4 percent of his 3-point attempts in the first-round. Yet, he was second on the team with 17.4 points per game. One reason, Paul was able to decimate the defeats with an array of shots inside the arc. Therefore, he shot 45 percent in the series.
The Warriors must pay attention to Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker. Gordon scored 15 points per game, while Tucker chipped in with 12 points per game. They both shot over 43.5 percent with Gordon scorching the nets at 48.6 percent from 3-point range.
Clint Capela also had an inconsistent series. He still averaged a double-double with 10.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Capela will look for a plenty of easy shots at the rim. Therefore, one the Warriors’ staples will be to limit Harden from having free runs into the middle of the paint.
The Warriors also produced five double digit scorers in round 1. Kevin Durant really increased his offensive production in the last three games of the series. He averaged 35 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in the series. The scoring outburst included a 50-point barrage in the closeout game. Yet, Durant needs to rebound better if the Warriors expect to advance.
Meanwhile, some people believe Curry had a bad series in round 1. He produced 24.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists. Curry also shot 50 percent from 3-point range and field goal attempts as a whole. However, the Clippers were able to slow him down by sending double teams as the series progressed. In turn, Draymond Green earned his first triple double of the playoffs in Game 6.
Klay Thompson was third on the team with 17.3 points per game. He had one explosive game. Thompson will spend most of his time on Harden without the screen roll plays. Therefore, it will be interesting to see if the Rockets use the same strategy as last season. Remember, the Rockets used the high pick n’ roll with whoever Curry was guarding. It became an interesting matchup of unorthodox basketball on both ends. Therefore, we may expect many cross matchups throughout the series.
Durant, Thompson and Curry all shot at least 40 percent from 3-point range in round 1. They all shot at least 90 percent from the foul line. But he is the most interesting part of the game plan going forward. Durant attempted 120 shots in six games. Curry attempted 88 shots, while Thompson shot the ball 86 times. Meanwhile, Green was fourth on the team with 64 shot attempts. Keep in mind, the top eight scorers are shooting at least 46.5 percent from the field in the playoffs. That includes Green shooting a woeful 16.7 percent from 3-point range.
In all, Green was 3 of 18 shooting from beyond the arc in the first-round. Clearly, he was at his best getting into the lane and creating havoc after the double team. However, we will really see Green’s impact on the defensive side of the ball.
Game 1 is set to tip-off at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Warriors are an early 5.5 point favorite. The over/under is set at 224.5. Even with Curry and Thompson questionable, the Warriors need to do everything in the power to win Game 1. Remember, the Warriors went into Houston and stole Game 1 last year. They also won Game 6 and 7 in the series.
Game 2 is set for Tuesday night at 10:30 p.m. ET. Meanwhile, Game 3 will be played on Saturday primetime. The three days off will provide plenty of time for rest, recovery and adjustments. Still, neither team wants to be down two games when the series changes to Houston’s Toyota Center.