#1 – Golden State Warriors
Thursday night’s Game 2 was among the first times all year the Warriors have gone on one of their trademark flash-flood runs to get up 15-plus, only to relinquish their hold on the game and have it come down to the wire. And they held on – though just barely.
It seems strange to say, but after two relatively competitive games to open the series, the Warriors are somewhat fortunate to be ahead 2-0. Similar to the start of round two against Memphis, a few things their opponents are doing seem to be mixing them up just a hair. Despite a cumulatively weak perimeter group defensively, the Rockets have utilized a lot of switching to limit the rotation-inducing movement Golden State typically feasts on, with reasonable success.
It’s causing some confusion for the Warriors, and forced several peculiar turnovers Thursday night. Steph Curry was typically brilliant, particularly in the initial Golden State run in the first half, but the rest of the Dubs’ offense went through pockets of stagnation in both games.
But they escaped with the most important figure – a 2-0 lead – and even a slightly tougher path than expected seems unlikely to derail them at this point. We saw how Steve Kerr adjusted last round, and the Warriors have the personnel to mix things up and put the ball back in Houston’s court. They’ll do themselves some favors if they tighten up just a bit, especially offensively.
#2 – Houston Rockets
It has to be moderately devastating for the Rockets to head home down 2-0 after consecutive valiant efforts to open the series in the league’s toughest building to play in. They did so many things right, but one can’t help but wonder if they threw their best punches and saw all of them narrowly absorbed. They’ll be kicking themselves for a couple bad stretches in each game that may have doomed them.
The Rockets’ switch-happy defense has been great, a transformation from the group we saw roll over early last round to the Clippers. They’re attentive on and off the ball (minus the occasional Curry abandonment), and when they do get forced into rotations to shooters, they’ve been mostly crisp. Josh Smith and Terrence Jones have both been game switching onto the perimeter, though Curry roasted Jones especially on a few occasions Thursday and the Warriors may look for that specific switch a bit more often.
Smith was active defensively, but his over-aggression on the other end of the court contributed to Houston’s early deficit and likely their eventual loss. Smith should never take 17 shots, much less in 21 minutes, many contested following brainless isolations against Andrew Bogut or Draymond Green. He’ll have to get his head screwed back on straight for Game 3.
James Harden has been absolutely incredible, including work defensively and on the boards that’s an understated complement to his transcendent offensive showings thus far. One has to wonder how long he can maintain this level of play, and he’s a microcosm for the entire Rockets team; they’re doing so much so well, but this sort of focus – mental and physical – is exhausting against a team like the Warriors. Kudos to them for leveling the playing field so well, though, and if they can avoid a big lapse or two they could get back into it at home.
Who Wins Game 3?
I’ll hold out hope that Harden has another game or two of otherworldly play in him, and pick the Rockets to cut their deficit in half.
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