© Kyle Terada | 2019 Apr 30
The Warriors outlasted the Houston Rockets Tuesday night, 115-109, to give them a 2-0 series lead.
Here are four thoughts from Golden State’s victory.
Warriors’ superior defense and rebounding lead to important win
With exception to a couple hiccups against the Clippers, the Warriors defense has been exceptional in the opening eight games of these playoffs.
In Golden State’s Game-1 win, the team held Houston to 100 points on 41.9 percent shooting. James Harden made nine of 28 shots. The Rockets started the game 2-18 from three-point land. It was obvious Golden State’s focus was on harassing Rockets shooters and running them off the three-point line. Steve Kerr’s decision to start Andre Iguodala underscored the commitment to defense. With Iguodala, all of the Warriors starters are capable of guarding Harden.
Kerr started Iguodala, again, in Game 2, and similar results followed.
The Warriors held the Rockets to just 49-first half points after allowing 43 in the first half on Sunday. The Rockets, again, started slow from three-point range, making three of their first 13 long-range attempts. When Harden left the game after being poked in the eye, the Rockets struggled to score. They had tallied just 31 points, 17 minutes into the game, when Harden returned.
The Rockets offense naturally produced with Harden back in the mix, but there wasn’t a defensive drop-off on the Warriors’ side. They flew around the court, eliminating shots that looked open at the moment of the catch. They forced 12 turnovers in the first half, which led to 20 points. The Rockets, conversely, did not score a single point in the first half off a turnover.
And despite Iguodala starting and playing 32 minutes, the Warriors didn’t suffer a rebounding disadvantage. They out-rebounded the Rockets, 45-41. Clint Capela, who historically plays well against the Warriors, was generally held in check. He contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The Rockets shot 46 percent and made 17 threes, but they turned the ball over 18 times. The Warriors attempted 14 more shots. That was the story of the game.
Warriors offense was evenly distributed
It’s rare that the Warriors win a playoff game without a 30-point scorer. But when you play the kind of defense they have been, that isn’t always needed.
Game 2 featured an evenly distributed Warriors offensive attack. Each of their stars went on their runs.
From 4:29 to 3:52 in the second quarter, Klay Thompson, who started slow, poured in seven points. Fast forward to the third quarter, directly after Curry went out, and Thompson sunk two threes to extend the lead to 15, giving the Warriors enough cushion to feel comfortable as Curry returned at the start of the fourth.
Durant cooled down, at least somewhat, from his incredible scoring streak but played a solid floor game. He started 2-8, but he settled in and found his pockets, finishing with 29 points on 9-22 from the floor. He made a couple mid-range buckets late in the fourth quarter to keep the Warriors’ lead in the double-digits, before Houston made a late run. The offense continued to funnel through Durant in closing time.
Stephen Curry briefly left the game in the first quarter after dislocating his middle left finger. It took him a couple minutes to look comfortable again. On one isolation, he dribbled a bunch of times in a row with his left hand so he could gain a better feel. Then, with under a minute in the first quarter, Curry sunk a floater and 28-foot three on consecutive possessions. He never really gained a rhythm, shooting 3-13 from three and chipping in 20 points.
Ultimately, the Warriors didn’t need a prolific night from one of their all-world scorers because they played well enough in the other facets.
Curry’s foul trouble becoming an issue
Curry has never had this issue consistently until these playoffs.
In each of the first three games of the Clippers series, Curry piled up at least four fouls. In Game 1 against Houston, he had five. Fast forward to Game 2, and Curry found himself on the bench during important minutes, again, for getting too greedy on the defensive end. Refraining from fouling savvy scorers such as Lou Williams and Harden is evidently something Curry is still trying to figure out.
Curry’s absence has negatively impacted these Warriors. For one, his absence messes up rotations. Curry typically plays the entire first and third quarters and sits the opening minutes of the second and fourth quarters. Kerr does this to pair Curry with Draymond Green at all times.
But Curry’s absence, more importantly, completely changes the Warriors’ offensive flow. He consistently gets his teammates layups by merely running along the baseline. Shortly after Curry picked up his fourth foul more than halfway through the third quarter, the Warriors actually reached their largest lead of the game, 15 points, off consecutive Thompson threes.
Then, they went cold. In the final four minutes of the third quarter, the Warriors did not score a point. They missed multiple opportunities to extend the lead to 15-18 points late in the third quarter, deeming a Houston comeback win unlikely, particularly with Curry gearing up for the fourth quarter. But Golden State continued clanking shots, partly due to poor offense. The flow turned static.
Houston, conversely, inched its way closer, pulling within seven points entering the fourth. It ultimately did not matter, but the game was close in the final minutes largely because Curry was unavailable late in the third quarter, as Houston made it a game.
The referees weren’t a story
Before Game 2, Kerr called all of the hoopla about the officiating “annoying.” And he was right. The focus on the no-calls in Game 1 overshadowed the celebration of two great teams playing in what feels like a Western Conference Finals matchup. There are three MVPs on the floor, yet many seemed more concerned with the three officials.
That wasn’t the case Tuesday. The refs called a clean game, particularly in the first half. There were few questionable or controversial calls.
In the second half, Durant was called for a couple fouls when it appeared he cleanly blocked Capela in both instances. But there wasn’t a landing-area foul — the popular phrase from Game 1 — until late in the third quarter, when Harden drew it.
Chris Paul, ever so sarcastically, celebrated the call.
Check out Chris Paul celebrate after James Harden draws his first foul on a 3-pointer 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/U91dLe7uRr
— KNBR (@KNBR) May 1, 2019
Let’s hope the focus for the rest of the series deviates from the refs.