Michael Walton II writes about the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for We Are Regal Radio.
Michael is a student, freelance writer and high school basketball scout based in Chicago. He’s previously been published in TrueStar Magazine, the Redeye Chicago and thelyricallab.com.
After was one of the craziest NBA regular seasons to date, the fans have been treated to playoff series that have been just as enthralling. While I am disappointed as a Chicago Bulls fan due to their swift dismissal by the LeBronaliers, as a basketball enthusiast I can appreciate the specific intrigue in in these Conference Finals.
The inaugural game in a playoff series obviously isn’t the deciding game, but it often serves as an excellent barometer for the rest of the series. So with that being said, these are the main things to look for tomorrow to see if the Golden State Warriors can go up 2-1, or if the Houston Rockets can bring back “Clutch City” and tie this series up.
It is well documented that the Warriors like to use their amped-up defense to create easy buckets at the the other end. And while the Dubs lead the NBA fast break scoring this season, they have an offense that runs just as effectively in the half-court. This is due to their versatility, but more specifically the difficulties that come with switching defensive assignments on the fly against them.
On Tuesday night the Rockets found themselves on the wrong side of Curry/Draymond Green pick and rolls. Green being at center means his picks will pull the last rim protector away from the rim because you simply can not give Curry any space to get his lightning quick shot off.
Curry finished with six three-pointers, a large quantity that isn’t shocking at this point. But too many of Curry’s threes came on uncontested shots where Rockets defenders got hung up on screens.
The communication wasn’t there on Tuesday night for Houston, and if they aren’t able to figure out who switches onto Curry when he comes off of pin-down screens and picks, Golden State might want to get their brooms ready. One solution would be for Houston coach Kevin McHale to put someone like Trevor Ariza on Curry.
The big problem with that is that their isn’t a suitable place to hide Jason Terry on D, and the need his shooting to keep up their pace-and-space attack. Bringing him off the bench could work, but this might be a lost cause for the Rockets. The Warriors have the edge on Houston in one of the least talked about factors: quantity of two-way players.
Not so fun fact
The Houston Rockets are 0-5 against the Golden State Warriors this year. That little factoid has to make James Harden feel like this:
James Harden: The Last Desperado
My favorite part of this great Western Conference Finals match-up is watching James Harden put this wounded Rockets squad on his back.
Harden was expected to lose some offensive efficiency while being guarded by one of the better wing defenders in the League, Klay Thompson.
So much for that. Not only did Harden dominate, but he finished one assist short of a triple-double.
I simply wasn’t prepared for what I saw on Tuesday night. He shot 55 percent from the field, which is incredible when you consider the degree of difficulty on so many of his shots. The most intriguing part of the Thompson-Harden matchup is how often Thompson gets victimized by this move.
The Warriors will continue to try to avoid fouling Harden, and to force him into the mid-range areas of the floor This strategy is solid, but only if Coach Kerr can think of a way to slow down Harden’s step-back midrange game. If the Dubs take game two despite another Harden scoring barrage, then expect Kerr to live with him taking that shot.
All signs point to Golden State dominating this series. But if the Houston Rockets are going down, James Harden is going out shooting, desperado-style.
If Dwight Howard is out for an extended amount of time the Rockets will have an obvious deficiency in the rebounding department, and they will lose one of the few rim-protectors they have on their injury-ravaged roster. The Golden State guards would be relentless in their forays to the rim simply because it would open up an already ridiculously efficient outside shooting attack.
Terrence Jones and Josh Smith provide valuable rim protection, though Smith is prone to giving up backdoor cuts and lose his man in off-ball situations. And to make matters worse for Houston, even having Howard back won’t solve the fact that having Jason “J.E.T.” Terry guard Curry straight up is like throwing an aging lamb into a lion’s den.
Curry will continue to light up the Rockets while still shooting a great percentage, that is why is the MVP. But Harden’s case for MVP was that he felt he carried the Rockets team while Curry was merely the most important piece on a very talented squad. The time is now for Harden to prove he was the real MVP. But no matter how I try to look at this matchup, it is hard to see the Rockets winning this series- unless Harden averages close to 40 points per game.
The Rockets-Warriors series mirrors the Eastern Conference Finals series due to the fact that fans will get to witness “Hero Ball” against total team play. But unlike the East series, I see total team play prevailing.
Prediction: Warriors in five
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