#1 – Golden State Warriors
Even though the Houston Rockets were able to cut their lead to as few as two points down the stretch of Golden State Warriors’ 110-106 victory to open the 2014-15 Western Conference Finals, the Warriors seemed to be in control of Game 1 following their 25-6 run to end the second quarter. Steph Curry’s step-back three from the corner that capped that run was merely one of many exciting shots and plays that the regular season MVP made to dazzle Bay Area fans.
The rest of the Warriors gave the fans of Oracle plenty to roar about, as it seemed like every player Steve Kerr threw into the rotation not only came in and contributed in several ways, but was also placed into the most ideal position to capitalize on a strength or mismatch. Shaun Livingston was huge off the bench with 18 points and seven rebounds and really picked up some of the scoring slack left by a struggling Klay Thompson (6-18 field goals, 1-7 from deep). Thompson remained aggressive despite the woeful shooting and made James Harden work for every point, regardless of how easy the MVP runner-up made it look during certain stretches early in the fourth quarter.
A key adjustment of shading Harden into help or trap situations down the stretch proved highly effective over the last six minutes of the game. It will be interesting to see whether Kerr elects to apply pressure to Harden in even more situations in Game 2, especially if Dwight Howard’s knee keeps him out of the action.
#2 – Houston Rockets
Coach Kevin McHale may not believe in moral victories, but at least a small part of him had to be encouraged by the fact that his Rockets were able to withstand yet another unexpected loss of their starting big man. Howard left the game for a time after Josh Smith accidentally tumbled into his knee midway through the first quarter. He was able to return, but was clearly limited and feeling discomfort before being pulled early on in the fourth quarter.
Harden did his best to match Curry’s excellence and really seemed to get the better of Thompson (28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals) despite some tough defense, but faded down the stretch as the Warriors adjusted and made him abandon the iso-ball in favor of finding an open teammate. Once again, Trevor Ariza flashed some of that Finals experience in support of Harden. The 29-year-old small forward made big plays for the Rockets throughout the game including some huge shots as they closed to within a basket with under a minute to play. Unfortunately for Houston, unlike in recent games, guys like Smith, Corey Brewer and Jason Terry weren’t able to provide quite enough to completely offset the loss of Howard’s productivity.
Who Wins Game 2?
We should find out whether Howard is able to play through the discomfort in Game 2 at some point on Wednesday, but unless their supporting cast can bring the type of energy and support they provided over their prior few victories it is going to be difficult to see them stealing one in Oracle. The Warriors find a way and head to Houston up 2-0.
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