The Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets 119-106 in game 1 of the Western Conference Finals to take a 1-0 series lead. Here are some reflections on what occurred in this opening game.
Rockets Were Over-Reliant on James Harden
These two squads represent a battle of isolation-ball versus ball-movement. Harden is among the best in the world at creating a shot for himself, but his teammates fell into the trap of standing around waiting for him to orchestrate instead of moving without the ball and helping him create offense beyond him just taking the shot himself. Harden scored 41 points on 14-24 from the field, and the Rockets still lost by 13. That’s especially discouraging. The Rockets finished with just 3 fast-break points for the entire game. Harden had to work so hard to create offense in the half-court setting. He risks simply running out of gas by the end of the game if he’s forced to do so much. There were stretches when he wasn’t out on the court that the Rockets really struggled to generate good shots.
Rockets Role Players Come up Short
Harden had to carry an extremely disproportionate amount of the scoring load. Chris Paul went 8-17 from the field for 23 points, but it was basically a two-man show with limited impact from important role players. Trevor Ariza had just 8 points on a disappointing 1-5 from 3-point range. He found himself in severe foul trouble by the third quarter. P.J. Tucker scored 1 point in 35 minutes. Luc Mbah a Moute went 0-6 from the field and finished with 0 points. Even moderately successful offensive performances from any of that supporting cast might have given the Rockets a chance to win this game. Role players tend to play better at home than on the road, so there’s no reason to think they’ll make a significant impact in Oakland if they similarly falter in game 2 in Houston.
So Many Options for the Warriors to Score
Stephen Curry scored 18 points and the Warriors still won by 13. That’s a luxury unimaginable to other teams in the league. A superstar of his caliber being held under 20 points but the team still winning by double-digits is pretty remarkable. The Rockets need their stars to produce at the optimal level every night to give themselves a decent chance of winning. Curry was just 1-5 from 3-point range this game, but Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson went a combined 9-21 from 3-point range. Durant had 37 points and Thompson had 28 points. Those are three of the premier shooters in the world, and it’s difficult to contain just one of them, let alone two or somehow all three. The Warriors also run their offense in a way that doesn’t drain the energy of any of their key players dribbling out the shot clock. They move excellently without the ball, anticipate cuts, and selflessly pass up good shots for an even better shot from another player. They make it look easy to generate good offensive possessions.