Playoff Preview: Houston vs. Golden State

1. Houston Rockets 

Record: 65-17 regular season & 8-2 postseason

Offense: No. 2

Defense: No. 6

Head Coach: Mike D’Antoni (40-40 playoff record)

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2017-18 SUPERGLOOO Leaders (season total in parentheses): James Harden 36.35 (1931.85); Chris Paul 32.95 (1267.89); Clint Capela 29.68 (1257.48); Eric Gordon 23.63 (1060.17).

Prolific Playoff Performers (SUPERGLOOO career total in parentheses): James Harden 25.85 (1821.89); Chris Paul 27.03 SUPERGLOOO (1716.09); Joe Johnson 12.88 (1135.95); Trevor Ariza 13.85 (875.44); Nene 13.83 (617.23).

The 5,000 Minute Rule: James Harden 19,468 minutes with Rockets; Trevor Ariza 15,028; Clint Capela 5920; Eric Gordon 5142.

STARTERS  MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  PLAYOFF STATS
 G James Harden  35.4  28.5  5.0  7.4  2.3 steals per game
 G Chris Paul  33.3  21.8  5.5  6.4  2.1 steals per game
 C Clint Capela  32.0  14.4  12.2  1.6  2.8 blocks per game
 F. P.J. Tucker  29.8  9.0  4.8  0.9  1.1 blocks per game
 F Trevor Ariza  32.3  8.7  4.0  1.0  0.9 steals per game

Key: MPG playoff minutes per game; PPG playoff points per game; RPG playoff rebounds per game; APG playoff assists per game; our SUPERGLOOO metric derived from Player Efficiency Rating, along with On and On-Off plus-minus ratings; * denotes injured player may miss playoff games. SOURCE: Basketball-Reference.com

 KEY RESERVES  MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  PLAYOFF STATS
 G Eric Gordon  30.6  12.9  2.5  1.4  2.2 3-pointers per game
 F Luc Mbah a Moute  19.0  4.0  3.0  0.6  0.8 blocks per game
 F Gerald Green  14.5  6.3  3.6  0.1  1.5 3-pointers per game
 C Nene  10.2  3.1  2.7  0.5  .650 true shooting %
 F Ryan Anderson  11.2  3.2  1.7  0.8  6 games in 2018 playoffs

 

2. Golden State Warriors

Record: 58-24 regular season & 8-2 postseason

Offense: No. 1

Defense: No. 9

Head Coach: Steve Kerr (55-17 playoff record)

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2017-18 Leaders (SUPERGLOOO season total in parentheses): Kevin Durant 30.38 (1471.29); Stephen Curry 38.08 (1293.76); Klay Thompson 21.48 (1121.17); Draymond Green 20.25 (964.83); Andre Iguodala 15.85 (535.60).

Prolific Playoff Performers (SUPERGLOOO career total in parentheses): Kevin Durant 27.78 (2729.47); Stephen Curry 30.98 (1909.48); Draymond Green 26.90 (1726.64); David West 21.03 (1350.42); Andre Iguodala 15.65 (1294.06); Klay Thompson 17.28 (1201.33); Shaun Livingston 15.68 (634.51).

The 5,000 Minute Rule: Stephen Curry 24,499 minutes with Warriors; Klay Thompson 21,008; Draymond Green 15,993; Andre Iguodala 11,802; Shaun Livingston 6739, Kevin Durant 5307.

PLAYOFF STARTERS  MPG PPG RPG APG PLAYOFF STATS
 C Draymond Green  37.4  13.1  11.5  9.0  1.9 steals per game
 G Klay Thompson  38.0  21.2  4.7  2.3  2.8 3-pointers per game
 F Kevin Durant  36.8  28.0  8.0  5.0  .595 true shooting %
 G Stephen Curry  31.3  24.5  5.3  3.5  .650 true shooting %
 F Andre Iguodala  27.5  7.7  5.1  3.5  1.3 steals per game

Key: MPG playoff minutes per game; PPG playoff points per game; RPG playoff rebounds per game; APG playoff assists per game; our SUPERGLOOO metric derived from Player Efficiency Rating, along with On and On-Off plus-minus ratings; * denotes injured player may miss playoff games. Source: Basketball-Reference.com

 KEY RESERVES  MPG  PPG  RPG  APG  PLAYOFF STATS
 C Kevon Looney  21.3  5.0  4.9  1.4  0.8 blocks per game
 G Shaun Livingston  17.7  7.3  2.0  2.0  0.3 steals per game
 G Quinn Cook  16.1  6.6  2.3  1.0  .621 2-point shooting %
 G Nick Young  7.9  1.9  0.4  0.1  0.6 3-pointers per game
 C David West  12.0  4.4  2.8  2.3  .633 true shooting %
 C JaVale McGee  12.0  6.5  4.0  0.5  .607 true shooting %
 F Jordan Bell  4.9  0.9  1.1  0.9  0.3 blocks per game

 

Everybody always wants to see the League’s best regular season team take on the defending champs in the Finals. But unfortunately, because the West was best, we must accept that this penultimate Golden State-Houston matchup takes place in the here and now, during these 2018 Western Conference Finals.

Ladies and gents, it’s the 2017 and 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, featuring 2015-16 and 2014-15 NBA MVP Stephen Curry and 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant, against the 65-17 Houston Rockets, featuring 2016-17 and 2014-15 NBA MVP runner-up James Harden, the favorite to win the 2017-18 NBA MVP award.

Does it get any better than that?

Behind the scenes, both teams have their health, which invites an intriguing matchup of both teams at their best … or at least, as healthy as we can expect after each squad has already played 92 games in this marathon-like quest to win an NBA championship. If we are to nitpick here, Curry may be healthy enough to look like an All-Star, but he is not yet 100 percent. After suffering a grade 2 MCL sprain a month ago, Curry only made it back into the Golden State lineup’s last week and got in 125 minutes of action during the last four games of the Warriors-Pelicans second-round series. His shot is spot-on, but Curry still has trouble shaking defenders the way he has grown accustomed to over the years.

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On the injury front for the Rockets, defender extraordinaire Luc Mbah a Moute, who expects to garner KD duty along with starting teammates P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza, is also back in the Rockets fold after missing three weeks of action with a dislocated right shoulder. Mbah a Moute played all five games in the Rockets-Jazz second-round series, totaling 95 minutes, after missing the entire first-round playoff series.

As a result, both teams enter this series with stacked decks, with lineups and combos head coaches Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni have been anticipating using against each other all season long.

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Do not be surprised if Kerr continues starting his Hamptons 5 Hall-of-Fame lineup of Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Durant and Draymond Green, especially since it had such success in the second round against the New Orleans Pelicans when Kerr sprung it on their stellar starting five in Games 4 and 5. The quintet, formerly known as the Death Lineup, is not used just to close games anymore, which means Green will play more minutes at center, likely guarding rim-runner Clint Capela more than he has all season long.

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As for the Rockets, you can write in Sharpie that D’Antoni will start Hall-of-Fame guards Harden and Chris Paul, alongside future All-Star Capela, longtime Rocket Trevor Ariza and an unknown fifth-man defensive forward, which could be either P.J. Tucker or Mbah a Moute. Or who knows, D’Antoni may just put Ariza on KD and start Ryan Anderson as a space-eating stretch 4.

Remember, these Rockets like to space out shooters as deep as 30 feet to give pick-and-roll combos—Harden and Capela, or Paul and Capela—the necessary running room they need for Capela to set his pick, free up the point guard to either take all the way, hit Capela with a lob or find a shooter for 3. It is a simple strategy that Houston uses 70 times per game, and if it does not work on the first pick-and-roll attempt, then Capela and his point guard just reset and try it once again.

By also utilizing 2016-17 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon off the bench—complementing either Paul or Harden—D’Antoni is able to field 48-minutes-per-game lineups featuring either Harden and Paul, Harden and Gordon or Gordon and Paul. No other team has a guard combo as fierce.

As for the Warriors, they make a similar claim—raising the title to top trio—when they have Curry, Thompson and Durant on the floor at the same time. However, Kerr is more apt to sub two out together and, say, keep Thompson or KD in with the subs while two top Dubs rest. It will be interesting to see if either coach veers from their preferred routine as we get deeper into the West Finals in what is sure to be a series full of in-game and post-game adjustments.

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As far as vulnerability points go, nearly half of Houston’s productivity comes from Harden and Paul. If Golden State is able to take away any aspect of their game, the Warriors will win. Meanwhile, Golden State is more of a three-headed beast, with their points of attack coming from Curry, Durant or Green. Yes, Thompson is a scoring threat, but he is more the finishing threat—the exclamation point in the team offense’s sentence. Stop the heart—either Curry, KD or Green—you slow down the vaunted Warriors attack.

Golden State’s defensive assassins will be sixth-man center Kevon Looney, Iguodala and Thompson, which normally causes his offense to suffer. Houston will counter with Mbah a Moute, Tucker, Ariza and Paul, who just loves to harass Curry as much as he can in series dating back to Paul’s Clippers days.

Capela and Durant will be the off-ball rim protectors whose paint-perimeter-paint play will be all so important to the tale of who controls the inside game. As far as outsiders go, Houston is already putting up 40 three-point attempts per game in this postseason, compared to only 30 for Golden State. That is a disparity that bears watching.

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In the long run, this Rockets-Warriors series will be a game of attrition, with Golden State perhaps maintaining the edge in that department since the Warriors have much more postseason experience and team familiarity with each other than Houston does at this time. That may be all the edge the defending champs need to win their third title in the last four seasons.

WARRIORS IN 7