Kyle Terada | 2019 Apr 28
OAKLAND — The Warriors beat the Houston Rockets, 104-100, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals matchup the NBA world has long awaited.
Here are four takeaways from the win.
Terrific defensive performance fuels the win
The Warriors entered Game 1 with two of their stars, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, hampered by injuries. The team had just one day to rest from the previous series, while Houston had half of a week.
For those reasons, the Warriors could have fallen victim to a slow start. So what does Steve Kerr do? Start Andre Iguodala, giving the Warriors their best, scariest lineup to start this heavyweight matchup.
Psychologically, starting Iguodala likely galvanized the Warriors even more. But it also made a sense from a basketball perspective. Iguodala could then guard James Harden instead of Thompson, gimpy from a bum ankle.
And Iguodala guarded Harden very well in Game 1. The Rockets superstar went 9-27 from the floor and 4-15 from three. He didn’t attempt an open three. The only “mistakes” Iguodala made was swiping down on Harden for fouls a couple times.
Last year, the Rockets missed a record 27 straight threes in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to lose. In Game 1 of this series, the Warriors, again, were terrific defending the three-point line. The Rockets made just 14 of 47 three-point attempts. They started 2-18 from the perimeter. P.J. Tucker, the team’s three-and-d guy, did not score a point and missed three open three-point looks. In a four-point final result, that’s huge.
Sunday didn’t feature a Warriors offensive clinic. The persistent turnover problem resurfaced again, as the Warriors gave away 20 possessions. But Sunday’s win proved again that they don’t need for all of their scorers to go off to win. When the Warriors play well defensively, they rarely lose. That held true in Game 1, as they limited a Houston team that averages more than 113 points to just 100.
Clint Capela was a non-factor
The Utah Jazz applied one of the most bizarre defensive strategies you’ll ever see when guarding Harden. The primary Jazz defender purposely trailed Harden to funnel him to the rim. The idea was to make Harden’s decision of whether to shoot a floater or throw a lob to Clint Capela difficult, with Rudy Gobert protecting the rim. In a way, it worked, as Harden and Capela consistently shot below their season averages throughout the five-game series.
The Warriors didn’t use the same strategy. But their post defenders, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney in particular, did a tremendous job of faking and falling at Harden when he drove, making him hesitant to the throw the lob. Most of Capela’s points come from lobs and putbacks. He isn’t someone who’s going to demand the ball in the low post and score from a move.
Capela has consistently had his way with the Warriors. Not Sunday. The Warriors contained Capela to four points on 1-2 shooting.
The Rockets don’t rely much on bench scoring. When Capela hardly scores, that puts even more pressure on Harden, Chris Paul, and Eric Gordon to pick up the slack. That was the case in Game 1, as the Warriors nearly eliminated Capela from the game altogether.
Warriors withstand Stephen Curry’s foul trouble
The most important stretch of the game followed Curry’s fourth foul. When Curry fouled Harden with 4:34 left in the third quarter, marking the latest questionable call that favored the Rockets’ superstar, Curry exited the game with the score tied at 68. Curry typically plays the entire third quarter before taking a four-to-six minute rest to start the fourth.
How did the Warriors respond? They blitzed Houston for the remainder of the third quarter, going up seven points entering the fourth. Durant, who started the game slow, got going, pouring in 10 points during that stretch.
Building a moderate lead entering the fourth quarter, with Curry ready to play the rest of the game, was a massive part of Golden State’s win. Curry went on to hit the dagger that ultimately won the Warriors the game, a stepback three-pointer to give them a five-point lead with 25 seconds left.
Draymond Green takes advantage of Rockets’ defensive gameplan
One of the most noteworthy takeaways from the Rockets’ defensive gameplan is how they raked Durant whenever he lowered the ball. He torched the Clippers last series by catching and shooting over smaller defenders. The Rockets —cycling Tucker, Iman Shumpert, and even some Paul at Durant — also suffer from a size disadvantage. But they focused on stripping the ball whenever Durant lowered it below his waist. A swarm of Rockets defenders flocked to Durant whenever he drove and knocked the ball loose several times for what would have been an easy bucket.
With all the attention Durant, Thompson, and Curry demanded, Green was left open to operate. And he attacked from the start, pouring in eight quick points to lead all Warriors in the first quarter.
His aggression continued throughout the game. There were a handful of times in which Green clapped his hands at the referees to hand him the ball out of bounds so he could inbound it and blitz the Rockets. The Warriors tallied just 13 fastbreak points, but Green made a cognizant effort to push the tempo against the plodding Rockets. He played a tremendous series opener, posting 14 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists one game after recording a triple-double.