Coach Mike D’Antoni kept saying that they wouldn’t make any adjustments. That all the Rockets needed to do was simply play better and their brand of basketball would prevail. Chris Paul echoed that sentiment. They believed that they could beat anyone on the basketball court, and a single game wouldn’t deter nor define them.
Turns out, they may have been correct in their assumptions. All they had to do was play like the Warriors, and have the Warriors play like them.
The Rockets drummed the Warriors from the opening tip, beating them in every quarter throughout the game. For every push the Warriors tried, the Rockets had an counter. Try a few possessions of Durant one-on-one? How about an open corner three by PJ Tucker (who had a career night shooting 5-of-6 from the three). Or an off the dribble drive by Chris Paul. Or a Harden step-back.
After game one we talked about what the Rockets would have to do in oder to beat the Warriors. About how they’d have to lure KD into ISO-ball, about how they’d need better contributions from the rest of the team, and about how the Warriors offense is predicated on ball movement and rhythm.
Someone must have been listening, because Game Two was a clinic in how to defeat Golden State – by letting them beat themselves and getting them out of their beautiful game.
Number of passes for the Warriors in Game 1 was 283, whereas in Game 2 it was 272. They played more isolation ball, more one-on-one, more clear out for a KD shot. That’s not the Warriors offense and you can tell it affected their flow, with the Warriors going 9-for-30 (30%) from deep. Durant had his 38 points on an efficient 13-for-22 shooting, but other than Steph Curry who dropped a 16-7-7, no other Warrior was in double figures.
Contrast that with the Rockets, who had five different players score double figures and as a team shot 38% from the three. The eye test was evidence that while this team runs through Harden, it’s a system that’s designed for ball movement and shots. Lots of shots.
If I had described how each team had played, without letting you know the names of the players, you may have mistaken the Rockets for the Warriors last night. Darryl Morey, GM of the Rockets, has talked about how their brand of basketball has a high degree of variability, and that hopefully over time, like a seven game series, that variability can swing in their favor.
Last night’s game was a reminder that when that variability swings in the Rocket’s favor, they are an offensive juggernaut that you can only hope to keep up with, and not out right stop. Role players play better when they find their rhythm, and aren’t just standing around on the parameter. Houston got into their offense early and often, unlike in game one when after dribbling the ball into oblivion, Harden would either shoot a contested shot or give it up with no time to make a play.
For the Warriors to win, they need to be the Warriors again, and not the Rockets. They need to get into their offense and not rely on KD to go one-on-one as many times. Durant may be the best offensive player in the world (Harden may have something to say about that), but one player can’t score every point, and the Warriors do best when they all can touch the ball. A Kevin Durant ISO should be the dagger, not the sword.
The Warriors need to find their flow again, but if the Rockets keep up their game plan from game two, it’ll be like playing against a mirror. The question is, who will break first.
This is the matchup we were waiting for all year, and it’s starting to live up to expectations.