One team staged a relatively improbable 3-1 series comeback, the other team showed some “chinks in the armor” in winning their last series. Certainly, both the Rockets and Warriors have had some struggles so far in the playoffs, and that is what makes the conference championship series an interesting one. Here are three areas of focus I feel each team need to perform well in to enhance their chances to win this series.
1. Big Man Play. The Warriors do not get a bunch of production from their bigs offensively, but defensively they make a huge impact. Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green are two of the better defenders in the league. Green can defend small or power forwards (even though he had trouble with Zach Randolph last series). Bogut blocks and changes shots at the rim. Also, David Lee, Marreese Speights, and Festus Ezeli provide size as well. I feel like these bigs still have to continue playing well defensively, especially if the Rockets decide to attack the rim consistently. Offensively, I think they might be able to provide a boost because the Rockets are pretty small besides Dwight Howard allowing the chance for offensive rebounds.
2. Klay Thompson. This is a series where I feel Thompson could be the player who will decide the fate of the Warriors. Klay struggled at times against Memphis (mainly when Tony Allen guarded him). I would expect Trevor Ariza, another solid wing defender, to draw the defensive assignment on Thompson. Ariza can “put the clamps” on players and if Klay is not scoring at an efficient rate the Warriors could be in trouble on offense. Also, Thompson will probably see a decent amount of James Harden on defense in this series. He has to slow Harden down somewhat. If he can not, it will cause Steve Kerr to go into his bench with probably Andre Igoudala to stop Harden.
3. Handling the limelight: Golden State did not handle the big scene well at the start of the Memphis series, but they regrouped to beat the Grizzlies. The stakes now increase by 1,000. We have seen talented teams crumble in situations like this where the majority of the roster has not won anything greatly significant. Could the Warriors fall into the category of just being a great “regular season” team. To me, they still have something to prove.
1. Attacking the Rim. The Rockets, for lack of a better term, upset me most when they get stagnant offensively and settle for three-point shots. When the Rockets get to the basket, they get to the foul line and put pressure on the defense. Also, the draw-and-kick game, becomes more dangerous because shooters like Jason Terry get open looks.
2. Defense. One possible and likely mismatch is Stephon Curry against anyone of the the Rocket point guards. Against Curry, I feel that defensive communication is paramount. Golden State likes to involve Curry in pick-and-roll situations, so communicating about “going under or over” the screen and “hedging” will be important. If Houston can not slow Curry and Klay Thompson, the Rockets are in serious trouble.
3. The Role Players. Houston won games 6 and 7 with solid contributions from the “other guys” like Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, and Trevor Ariza. Those three along with Dwight Howard, Terrance Jones and the rest of the Rockets MUST continue to play well in order for the Warriors’ defense to stay honest.
Klay Thompson– His play might decide the series
Draymond Green– His versatility can give the Rockets major issues
James Harden– Let’s not get it confused, the Rockets go and Harden goes. Attacking the rim and not settle for jump shots.
Prediction: Golden State I feel is better than Houston, but do not sell the Rockets short. That comeback was not a fluke, but I see the Warriors playing more steadily as they series develops. The Rockets will need to bring the same energy level they showed in game 7 every game, but I don’t see that happening. I like the Warriors in 6 games.