Rockets finally have chance to validate their Warriors obsession
The Rockets have been obsessed with Golden State for the past year. Starting Tuesday, the Rockets finally have the defending champs.
Since adding Kevin Durant, the Warriors have lost just three times in 27 playoff games. Houston will need to beat them four times out of seven to win this Western Conference final, one that looks and feels like a de facto NBA championship.
While the rest of the NBA has been conceding to the Warriors, Houston has been chasing them. Others are content to wait the Warriors era out, but everything the Rockets have done is about knocking them off, bringing in players who can switch on the defensive end and hit 3s on the other.
General manager Daryl Morey didn’t just pull off the Chris Paul blockbuster to create a two-headed monster with James Harden. He added P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute to boost assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik’s defense. And despite Harden’s disinterest on that end of the court, they’ve surrounded him with four solid defenders and jumped from 18th in defensive efficiency to sixth.
Houston rolled to an NBA-best 65-17, and snapped the Warriors’ 14-game winning streak back on Jan. 20.
“That’s all fine and dandy, in January. But now they got us, we got them. Got to go out there and play. We’ll see who’s better,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “They’ve made it known that their team is built to beat us, kind of their obsession or whatever you want to call it. It is what it is.
“But like I said before, all that stuff is cool. You can build your team … obviously you want to build your team to beat the defending champs because that’s usually [who] you’ve got to go [through] to get a championship, the way you’ve got to go. All understandable. That stuff has been said for about a year now. It’s time it play.”
Don’t be fooled by all the 3s, these teams couldn’t be more different. This series is the classic clash in styles, Golden State’s beautiful team passing against Houston’s hero-ball, featuring isolation after isolation.
The Warriors are possibly the best offensive team in history, and the Rockets are the most dangerous team they’ve faced since they added Durant.
Houston will slow the game, go iso and attack mismatches. The danger is ending up with too many ill-advised Harden fadeaways and step-back 3s instead of drives. Houston beat Minnesota and then Utah that way. But against Golden State the Rockets need Harden to suck in the defense, not suck the life out of his own team’s rhythm.
Harden is nearly unstoppable when he uses Clint Capela’s screens, largely why Houston was 50-5 when that duo and Paul all played. The Beard just can’t afford another playoff meltdown.
No, not where LeBron is taking his talents. Who does Golden State start, and how does Houston counter?
If the Warriors go Death Lineup with Draymond Green at center, that could leave Harden on Andre Iguodala and Tucker on Durant. If Golden State goes traditional with Kevon Looney at center, then who does Harden guard? Klay Thompson or Green?
On the other side, does Trevor Ariza get the unenviable task of guarding Durant? He has the experience, length, athleticism and defensive chops. He smothered Durant in their only meeting in the season opener, and the latter is hitting just 28.1 percent from deep in the postseason.
The NBA is a star-driven league and this series is the height of that, but watching Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni’s decisions will be great subplots.
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