Stephen Curry

After the Houston Rockets finally won a game in their playoff series with the Golden State Warriors, most of the talk was about the officials. In game 4, it’ll be about the return of Stephen Curry after missing two games.

The Rockets put themselves back in the series after the game 3 win on a James Harden fall away jumper, that the NBA later said shouldn’t have counted because he pushed back. The Rockets had more concerns with officiating: Andrew Bogut tried dislocating Dwight Howard’s shoulder and Draymond Green was busy wrestling Michael  Beasley after a boneheaded move to lose the game on the previous possession. 

But now Curry, the 2015 MVP and the will-be 2016 MVP, is back. Interesting fact: Curry has only 20 minutes of basketball in this series. He scored 24 points in those. With him, the Warriors are +28 in the series. Without him? Only +6. Some say that the fact that the Rockets struggled so much to get a win out of game 3 with so many things going against the Warriors suggests just how unbalances this series is. But balanced or not, there’s a bottom line, and it shows things aren’t as easy for the Warriors when Curry is out.

When looking at key numbers in this series, the Rockets are really miles behind. A lot more possessions than they would have liked to be at right now (pace is at 97.7), losing in the eFG comparison, turnover percentage, free throws per field goal attempts and offensive rating. The only area with a Rockets advantage in is offensive rebounding, but it just doesn’t matter without good shooting, smart ball movement and consistent defense.

Do the Rockets players actually like James Harden? It doesn’t matter at this point. Yes, chemistry can be built or improved this late in the season, but trying to make too much out of the reaction of Rockets players after Harden hit the game winner is useless. The Rockets don’t have a secret gear we don’t know of, or surprise tactic. It’s a team based on Harden shooting a lot and spreading the ball to other players when they’re open. Sometimes Howard will get noticed under the basket, most of the time he won’t. There’s no love between the players. There may be some stepped on egos, which is helping them make more of an effort to delay the inevitable.

All this doesn’t matter for another reason too. If Curry is really ready to go (if this was the NBA finals he wouldn’t have been resting), everything Houston does makes little difference. The Warriors will be back to their almost unstoppable offense, their comfortable switches and traps on defense and only some crazy shooting game from the Rockets, with Harden getting love all around or not, can stop this series from going back to the Bay Area with a 3-1 lead in the hands of the Warriors.

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