Perhaps this is the most anticipated series since Chris Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets last summer. Many questions arose of how James Harden would adjust to another ball handler a year after he transitioned to the point guard position.
65 regular season wins and two series in which the Rockets only spent playing five games each its safe to say the hype has lived up to its potential. Now, on the opposing end, the Golden State Warriors have not look any different. Stephen Curry did not play in the first round and only played in four games this postseason so far. Have they missed a beat? Absolutely not.
The trust issues of Paul and Harden’s prior playoff performances were in question but again, another hurdle that was clarified when Paul erupted for 20 of his 41 points in Game 5 of the Semifinals matchup against the Utah Jazz. Harden chose to defer and let the veteran handle business. Both have previously been ousted in the playoffs by the Warriors over the past few years. Now together Paul and Harden will seek to “upset” the defending champs.
In the regular season, 50-percent of the Rockets attempts were three-point attempts. For good portion of the regular season, this was not the case as the attempts for the three ball exceed two-point attempts. Currently, in their first 10 games in the postseason, the Rockets have found a way to score without a heavy reliance from behind the arch. The Rockets are currently shooting 56-percent of their attempts inside the three-point line. They are shooting just about eight more attempts inside the three-point line per game in the playoffs.
This will be a factor in the series against Golden State as the versatility of showing different looks to the Warriors defense is key. Of course, a lot of pick and roll action with Paul and Harden finding Clint Capela for an easy two would be desired over a contest three-point basket it appears in the postseason.
So far the Rockets only has one player shooting over 40-percent from behind the line in the postseason. P.J. Tucker is shooting 45-percent for Houston and the next closest Rocket to him is Ryan Anderson with 38-percent but Anderson has only played in six games and attempted 13 shots from behind the line.
The Clint Factor
Clint Capela has a coming out party over the last few years for Houston. This year it’s even better. The big man is averaging 14.4 points, 12.2 rebounds (63-percent shooting), and 2.8 blocks in the 10 postseason games for the Rockets. A significant defensive anchor for the interior but what is even better is that he benefits from a Chris Paul pick and roll or wide open after a drive and dish when opposing teams close out the perimeter on the Rockets.
The ability for Capela to draw attention offensively means that Draymond Green, JaVale McGee or Zaza Pachulia has to keep their guard up on the defensive end as the ball swings between the perimeter. Look for the Rockets to make the Warriors scramble quite more often than they are used to.
The Warriors are the defending champs for a reason. With Curry only playing in four games total there doesn’t seem to be any lapse in progress. Of course, that isn’t hard to say when you have three other All-Stars to compensate the lack of the MVP guard.
The road to the Western Conference Finals was about equal to the Rockets path. The Warriors have only lost two games and wrapped up each of their previous series in five games. Their biggest key to winning this series will be playing their tempo and keeping the Rockets on their heels defensively. When the Warriors “death squad lineup” is in there is very little you can do to stop the bleeding from a barrage of three-point baskets.
For once there will not be homecourt advantage for the Warriors in the conference finals. They will have to defer to the 65-win Rockets. Even with a 20-point lead for Houston at any part of this series I will not trust it unless the final buzzer has gone off. The Warriors are too capable of cutting 20 to 3 in a matter of 5 minutes if that.
Off the Court Talk
Things may get a little chippy in this series. After a game against these two teams in January Clint Capela and Kevin Durant exchanged thoughts in the media. Capela told ESPN: “We are the better team.”
Durant responded: “You hear that from guys like Capela. Usually, he’s catching the ball and laying it up from CP or James Harden. His job is not hard. When your job is hard, you know you can’t just come out there and say s— like that.”
These two teams are capable of scoring more than 112 points per 100 possessions. High octane offenses and lethal three-point shooters from each end. A little bit of extra effort on defense can help as one team holding the other under 100 points might give them the simple advantage. I like what I saw from the Rockets matchup wise and I’m playing with the underdog fire here. Chris Paul will be the difference-maker and gives Houston the ability to slow the tempo down for a more controlled pace. As long as the Rockets avoid a shootout with the Warriors they will set themselves up for success.
Series prediction: Houston Rockets in 7 games
Game 1: Mon, May 14: Golden State at Houston, 9 p.m. ET, TNT/R
Game 2: Wed, May 16: Golden State at Houston, 9 p.m. ET, TNT/R
Game 3: Sun, May 20: Houston at Golden State, 8 p.m. ET, TNT/R
Game 4: Tue, May 22: Houston at Golden State, 9 p.m. ET, TNT/R
Game 5*: Thu, May 24: Golden State at Houston, 9 p.m. ET, TNT/R
Game 6*: Sat, May 26: Houston at Golden State, 9 p.m. ET, TNT/R
Game 7*: Mon, May 28: Golden State at Houston, 9 p.m. ET, TNT/R
* – If Necessary
Baseline Times Contributor