Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, NBA Playoffs

Warriors hold off Rockets in Game 1 slugfest

We saw the best and worst of both teams in Game 1 and a frantic, chaotic finish had the Warriors holding off the Rockets.

A few final seconds of chaos wrote the ending to Game 1, giving the Warriors a win over the Rockets and plenty for fans to dissect for the next few days. Kevin Durant was superb. James Harden was good, not great. A back-and-forth game landed at 1:00 left in the fourth with the Warriors holding onto a five-point lead.

Harden cut that lead to two with a driving layup and the ensuing free throw after getting fouled by Klay Thompson. Nene, who was on the floor for the Rockets, in part, because Golden State had been pounding them on the offensive glass, found himself switched onto Stephen Curry and watching haplessly as a 3-point rainbow sailed over his head pushing the lead back to five.

Harden drove for a dunk, cutting the lead back to three. And then the Rockets, with just over 20 seconds left, generated a steal off the inbounds pass with a chance to tie. Harden’s 3-point attempt rimmed out but he fell to the floor after contact with Draymond Green. Chris Paul ended up with the rebound and collided with Thompson as he tried to pass it bask to Eric Gordon, with the ball ending up out of bounds. However, Harden didn’t get a call on the 3 (which was probably correct) and Paul was given a technical and ejected after yelling at the ref about the collision with Thompson, a more debatable call.

This final possession, with the referees declining to make one call and happily making another, both victimizing the Rockets, wrote an ugly end. But the point is, both teams could have been better. And both teams still could have won this game.

Golden State Warriors

104

Houston Rockets

100

Takeaways

Houston’s defense did what they needed it to. The Rockets focus in this series isn’t shutting down the Warriors, it’s simply feeding some of their worst habits and goading them into a corner where they give up some of their advantages. It’s all about shaving off percentage points of win probability. Houston has clearly decided that means forcing turnovers and encouraging Golden State to feed Durant, to the exclusion of moving the ball and getting everyone involved. Durant was fantastic, scoring 35 points. But Houston will happily live with that if it comes with him taking as many shots as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined. Without a rhythm to their ball movement, the Warriors racked up 20 turnovers to 24 assists. I think if Houston could lock in those numbers for turnovers and Durant’s shot attempts for the rest of the series, not knowing anything else, they’d happily take them.

Throw out the shooting stats for the Rockets. It may sound ridiculous, but I don’t think the Rockets care that James Harden and Eric Gordon were 8-of-29 on 3-pointers. I mean, obviously, they would rather have two of those go in and win the game but I don’t think they’re worried about those numbers as indicative of something flawed with their approach, or something to worry about with Harden’s stamina or ability to be effective against Golden State’s defense. The Rockets were absolutely in position to win this game and a break here or there on any number of possessions could be the difference. Winning the game is the only thing that matters for them against the Warriors and this was a winnable game. They’ll keep doing what they do and trust that they’ll catch those breaks next time.

Next: Kevin Durant is the Warriors’ biggest problem, and their only solution

The margin is still small. The Rockets are not as good as they were last season but clearly, neither are the Warriors. Houston doesn’t have as much depth with perimeter defenders and Chris Paul is a year older. But Golden State may only have three bench players they can trust and two of them are centers who probably shouldn’t be on the floor much anyway if they’re going to get the most out of Draymond Green. These two teams are just incredibly evenly matched and with the emotional stakes so high, there’s no reason to think the rest of this series won’t be played as closely as Game 1.

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