January 20, 2017 wasn’t all bad for Bay Area natives. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets 125-108 to cap off an impressive three-game stretch against some of the league’s best players and teams. The Dubs pounded Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers by 35, Russell Westbrook and the OKC Broken Hearts by 21, and James Harden and the Houston Rockets by 17. Make that a 73-point win margin against three squads with a combined 88 wins.
2. The Warriors did a good job bottling up James Harden, who had an impressive stat line (17 points, 7 boards, 11 assists), but managed only 13 shot attempts. Steve Kerr elected to shade an extra defender towards the MVP candidate where ever he went on the court and trap him as soon as he picked up the dribble. Harden committed seven turnovers and could never get his own offense going, scoring 12 points off his season average.
3, And Kerr was able to send help Harden’s way because Draymond Green was absolutely ubiquitous on defense. It wasn’t just picking up three blocks in the first half to go along with a steal, it’s that every time the defense broke down on the perimeter, the Warriors could depend on Green to be under the rim to clean up the mess. In one sequence in the second quarter, Dray crushed an Eric Gordon layup attempt and on the very next Houston possession forced a miss from Patrick Beverley at the rim by getting his arms and body in the way of the shot. All these embarrassing blocks Draymond habitually gets on guys might be the reason why he was only ninth in All-Star voting by the players. Dudes just don’t like him.
4. How can Kevin Durant (32 points on 19 shots), a seven-footer, slither into the lane like this?
5. The Warriors are mauling teams in the third quarter. Since the Memphis debacle, the Dubs are plus-12.5 in the third frame. It’s like Steph and KD and Co. use the first half to feel out the other team, play just well enough to hold a small lead, and then once the half-time act is over — POW! — the Warriors pull off Scorpion’s finishing move and eviscerate their opponents.
6. Steph Curry off-the-dribble step-back threes over a taller opponent have been rare this season but they’re beautiful as ever. (Curry finished with 24 points and shot 5-of-11 from distance.)
7. The Rockets lead the league in made threes at nearly 15 a game. They made only seven on 35 attempts against the Warriors. Some of that was guys missing open shots, and some of that was Ryan Anderson having to sit the second half with a stomach virus. But what doomed Houston tonight is also what makes them a threat should these two teams meet in the playoffs: you never know when the triples might fall. The question is whether the Rockets can connect on those shots consistently four times in seven games.
8. Houston GM Daryl Morey might not have been able to lure mega star free agents to Houston, but he’s been adept in plying the draft and D. League, sifting for gems in the bargain bin. Patrick Beveley is a feisty defensive guard shooting over 40 percent from deep that’s on a laughably cheap contract. Montrezl Harrell, a second-round pick, can rim-run and irritate opposing players. And am I wrong in thinking Sam Dekker is going to have a long NBA career? Dude is 6’9″, is always around the ball, can shoot a little from distance, and had 17 points and seven boards playing in Anderson’s absence. Not bad for the 18th pick.
9. Missing David West’s passing acumen: Ian Clark and Klay Thompson. Seems like three times a night the second-unit gets freebies off back cuts and crisp passes from West.
10. For my money, I’d take Harden over Russell Westbrook for MVP. Russ might have the gaudier numbers, but Harden is on a better team and gets his running mates more involved. If you were an NBA player, who would you rather play with? James Harden, a guy who uses his crafty ball-handling and footwork to create open passing lanes for teammates, or Russell Westbrook, a guy who pounds the rock for 17 seconds while teammates stand around and watch? Both guys are playing at historically great levels, but I think Harden is just a notch above.