The Rockets have nearly vaporized the planet size chip on their shoulders that is the Golden State Warriors. If they pull off this upset Daryl Morey and Mike D antoni will look like the two smartest men in the NBA, and almost everyone else (including myself) will look like fools for not seeing this coming.
The addition of Chris Paul this offseason can not be overstated. Sure he didn’t shoot great tonight, but he is their leader. He has truly been their rock. Two games in a row Paul has shown out with his suffocating defense on Steph Curry and timely, miraculous shot making. It really is amazing watching Paul clamp down in crunch time. Not only that but the fact that James Harden has come up small for big moments in this series doesn’t seem to phase Paul in the least. He thrives on the pressure. In the fourth quarter tonight he was hitting shots that were just silly. Hand in his face? Buckets. Double clutch? Buckets. It’s simply amazing to watch someone so locked in like Paul is.
Offensively the Rockets can get whatever they want when they’re dialed in, which is terrifying, even on bad shooting nights from Harden and Paul it’s clear that someone will rise to the occasion. Whether it be Tucker hitting five three pointers in game two, or Eric Gordon making tough shots to the tune of 24 points in game five. This team has depth and defensively have muddied the Warriors game plan by chasing them off the three point line and letting Clint Capella or the versatile Tucker do the rest.
By the way. Has anyone seen James Harden? Is he ok? He pops up every once in a while for a nice dunk and is always baiting foul calls but for real where has his game gone? He has missed his last 20 three pointers. Ironically in that timespan the Rockets are +12. That is so bad I was actually in disbelief when I saw that stat line. Reggie Miller said tonight that he spends every waking moment in the gym taking shots. Is he sleeping? Is he eating? Or is he just taking copious amounts of adderall after every game and shooting until the next game starts. It’s unclear, but for real this guy is not helping his reputation. Well maybe he is, his defense on Golden States backcourt the last two games has been above par but he also is getting crossed up by Shaun Livingston( btw does his hair look weird?) Is he even the best player on his team in these playoffs. He seems to have a great game or two sprinkled in but for the most part he just looks gassed and afraid of the impending offseason and if it wasn’t for Chris Paul it would be coming much sooner.
Are the Rockets the better team? Of course not, we all know benches shorten in the playoffs and Golden State has the best 5 man lineup in the league when healthy. That being said Rockets versatility and depth can not be ignored. When they have played Pj Tucker at the five they have so much offensive talent on the court that Golden State just seems overwhelmed. They can play big with Capella at the 5 and Tucker or Luc Mbah a Moute at the 4 and still have enough firepower with Gordon, Harden and Paul in the lineup.
The matchups off of switches have been a key factor in this series. When Steph Curry and Durant run a pick and roll and Paul matches up with Durant anyone would think that would be a mismatch, but no, Paul is up in KD’s face moving step for step with him and forces him to be very uncomfortable shooting with his physical play.
As this series has progressed it appears the game plan on Durant is more mental than anything. They beat him up in the paint and let him take all the shots he wants outside of 14 feet, and it’s working. Game 4 with seconds on the clock KD gave up the ball to Klay, who was essentially double teamed, and he took a terrible shot from about 15 feet out, near the baseline. Tonight Durant went 8 for 22 and that’s just simply not going to cut it for one of the best players in this game. He has gone 17 for 46 from the field in the past two games but can we really blame him? The way Houston has chased Curry and Thompson off of the three point line and into uncomfortable shots this series have really led to Durant forcing some bad looks against some gritty defenders in Paul, Ariza,Tucker and Capella. He towers over them all and yet their aggressive in your face style has really hurt his flow.
Watching these two games get down to the wire and both slide the Rockets way must be disheartening for the Warriors. They have not been tested like this since their monumental collapse in the 2016 finals against the Cavs.
So what’s wrong exactly? Why is the best team in basketball not playing up to par? Well one could attribute this to luck. In both games the Warriors got great looks in the final seconds to either tie or take the lead and bricked both shots. Another reason may be the fact that in the past couple seasons Golden State has grown accustomed to the comfortable leads, the cushion that makes late game fuck ups not matter as much. Averaging a margin of victory in the teens in the playoffs last year was no easy task, but it makes the fourth quarter so much more manageable. Draymond’s turnover with 6 seconds left sucked the souls out of the Warriors, they knew it was over.
The turnovers have been running rampant for Golden State, 16 turnovers is way too many. Green, Curry, Durant and Thompson are all to blame. Bad passes, dribbling into double coverage, stepping out of bounds, they did it all and the lack of confidence was glaring. Another huge contributor has to be depth. They started Kevan Looney and gave too many minutes to an aging David West whose defense has declined dramatically, Jordan Bell is a rookie getting significant minutes , Swaggy P has never played a big game in his life and Iguodala is hurt. Out of all the non-Hamptons 5 players Shaun Livingston has been the best for them off the bench, but come on, one consistently great bench player is not going to cut it. It’s actually laughable that Golden State has four traditional centers on their team and in their best lineup Draymond is at center. It seems like they should have hedged this season with more guys who could create their own shot and less old school big men with slow feet and limited offensive skills.
That being said they are the Warriors and it would not be shocking if they rattled off two blowouts in a row. The Rockets role players could have an off game or two, it depends on adjustments really, this may sound funny but it almost seems like a maturity thing. Kerr is pleading with these guys to make better passes and play less iso, they are simply just not listening. I’ve never seen a team with such obvious solutions before them be so dumbfounded when they lose. The passing is simply not a priority and KD and Steph have massive targets on their backs. Transition buckets are key here which means Draymond needs to wake up, he should be kicking himself in the balls to wake up. He is the catalyst, it’s not always pretty but if he’s taking the ball up and Curry and Klay are setting up off ball screens and Durant secures a position down low that is how you find favorable matchups. Defensively they are solid, holding the Rockets to less than 100 points two games in a row is no small feet. It’s just not enough.
Maybe the Warriors will get an early Christmas present from Houston and find out Chris Paul has a torn hamstring after his injury late in the fourth quarter, that would be reminiscent of last years conference finals when Kawhi got hurt and the Spurs imploded, I guess we’ll see. One things for certain, whichever way this series goes, game 6 is gonna be must watch television.