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The Golden State Warriors demonstrated on Monday night why it is such a grueling task to defeat them come playoff time. The opposition must execute close to perfection. The Houston Rockets failed to do that in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals and now face a must-win contest on Wednesday night at the Toyota Center.
James Harden, expected to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player, performed at an MVP level—but so did Kevin Durant in the Warriors' 119-106 victory. While Harden scored a game-best 41 points, Durant recorded 37 of his own. Chris Paul, who **posted 23 points, 11 rebounds and two steals, was on par with two-time MVP Stephen Curry** (18 points, eight assists, two steals and one block).
Review of the game tape and a quick glance at the box score shows that both teams’ superstar duos came to play and essentially offset one another other. But the remaining cast of the Warriors severely outplayed Houston’s. There lies the problem for the Rockets. They don’t have the depth of talent to go neck-and-neck with the Warriors. No NBA team does.
On a night where the Rockets needed Clint Capela (who is far more than just a role player, as these playoffs have shown, but still clearly playing third fiddle to Harden and Paul) to dominate on both ends, he was instead held in check. Houston's center scored just 12 points (mostly off alley-oops) and had just six rebounds—the same amount as Curry.
P.J. Tucker, fresh off scoring 19 and 15 in his last two playoff contests, respectively, had one measly point. He missed all three field goal attempts and went 1-of-3 shooting from the charity stripe. Luc Mbah a Moute couldn’t muster a single point on 0-for-6 shooting, while Trevor Ariza registered just eight points.
The aforementioned forwards need to hit outside jumpers for Houston to have a chance this series. Tucker, Mbah a Moute and Ariza went a combined 1-for-9 from behind the arc. They didn’t make an impact on the glass (11 rebounds combined) and had no answer for Durant.
Ariza picked up his fifth foul less than three minutes into the second half. Tucker ended up spending the most time guarding Durant, who used his height to shoot over the top of Tucker. Mbah a Moute actually has the length to defend Durant, but struggled against him in limited chances and put forth a brutal overall showing—as evidenced by his game-worst minus -14 in 20 minutes of action.
Eric Gordon was the only non-star to deliver on offense for the Rockets. The 2017 Sixth Man of the Year had 15 points, five rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes. However, he turned the ball over four times, struggled on the defensive end and posted a minus-10.
So while Houston relied on Capela, Gordon, Tucker, Mbah a Moute and Ariza to aid its superstar duo, Golden State leaned on the likes of Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to compliment its superstar pair. Advantage, Golden State.
Thompson had a field day, hitting six treys en route to a 28-point showing, while Green delivered his typical all-around offensive performance (five points, nine rebounds, a team-high nine assists) and stellar defense, which included a couple of steals and blocks.
Iguodala didn’t have nearly the statistical output as Thompson and Green, but his insertion into the starting unit (their “death lineup”) caused all sorts of problems for the Rockets, who were forced to sit Capela during some important stretches of the game to combat Golden State’s smaller unit.
The Rockets are counting on guys outside of Paul and Harden to come through in Game 2. If they don’t, the Rockets will likely be staring at an 0-2 series deficit, which all but ends their upset hopes.