In game 1 of the Western conference finals the Golden State Warriors took a 1-0 lead, beating the Houston Rockets 110-106, pretty much the difference between Stephen Curry and James Harden, or the ability to take advantage of the small lineups both teams used.
Curry had 34 points, followed by 18 from Shaun Livingston, 15 from Klay Thompson, 14 from Harrison Barnes and 13 from Draymond Green, also adding 12 rebounds and 8 assists. James Harden led the Rockets with 28 points, followed by Trevor Ariza with 20 and Josh Smith scoring 17. The Rockets shot better from the field, 3-point range and the free throw line, usually a proof safe way of winning games. But their late turnovers and bad timing to fall apart on defense made the difference.
This is the present and future of the NBA. Centers? Out. Forward who are between 6’7 and 6’9 playing center? In. Stretching the floor, and leaving the paint open for slashes and drives instead of post up plays. The Warriors went small and the Rockets followed, partially because Dwight Howard was suffering from a bad knee. In the end, with defensive stars like Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston, the Warriors had the advantage in this sort of lineup, even if Trevor Ariza and Josh Smith nearly pulled the rug from under them at the end.
MVP vs Runner Up
Stephen Curry scored 34 points on 6-of-11 from beyond the arc. The Rockets had a player to guard someone, except for Curry. Curry hits 46% of his 3-point shots in wins, 36% of them in losses. The attempt number is pretty much the same. It’s about the accuracy and freedom. In a game hovering around the 5-6 points margin at most during the entire second half, that’s a huge difference. James Harden was the weak spot defensively for the Rockets, especially in that 9-0 run after the Rockets tied things up at 97-97. Being held to just 7 points in the first half was also something the Rockets find hard to bounce back from.
The adjustment in this game was giving Livingston a bigger role than usual, resulting in 18 points from the guard, 14 of them in the first half, mostly in a 21-4 run that helped the Warriors get some separation. Now it’s the Rockets’ turn to react, but they don’t have the amount of tools and flexibility the Warriors have, or at least any hidden cards. Playing Dwight Howard, if he’s healthy, forces the Warriors to use Andrew Bogut, who had an awful game. Without Howard, the small ball vs small ball becomes a shooting contest. In that, the Warriors are better, unless Harden is holding back in some way, or has the trap problem figured out.
One Last Thought
You work all season to get home court advantage. Why? A lot of reasons. One of them is having the ability to beat up on the other team and not get called for it. During their 9-0 run, the Warriors got two stops by fouling, only no whistle was blown. It works the other way when the series goes to Houston, but in close games like this one, that advantage turns out to be huge.