Neither game in this first round series has been in doubt, even slightly, even though Game 2 was much closer throughout. With the way the Warriors kept the Rockets guessing on Monday night in a 115-106 victory, we’re only left to wonder whether Golden State will sweep or the Rockets will steal a game in Houston.
Oh, and what’s actually going on with Stephen Curry. More on that in a bit.
The Warriors hold a few significant mental advantages over the Rockets.
- Their offense contains far more cuts and passes than the Rockets’ simpleton offensive sets, which mostly consist of James Harden dribbling and gyrating until he either shoots, kicks it out to a mediocre three-point shooter, or gets bailed out by a Warrior reaching. Houston’s defense doesn’t have the attention span to stick with Golden State, while the Warriors can get a stop more often than not when they’re engaged.
- The Warriors are 13-1 against the Rockets over the last two seasons (including the playoffs), and have now beaten Houston twice without Curry.
- With a roster full of intelligent players like Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, the Warriors are the smarter team in this series … by a lot.
“Andre was a huge presence for us. Not so much statistically, but mentally a huge presence. When we’re in the locker room or when he’s on the court, just because he knows how to play the game,” Bogut said.
“Put Shaun in that capacity as well. Two of the highest basketball IQs I’ve played with in my career.”
Both backup point guards (Green doesn’t count, since he’s a point-forward who starts every game) put forth nearly perfect efforts. One backup point guard started (that would be Livingston) and played a tremendous all-around game: 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting, 6 assists and 2 steals. The other backup point guard, Iguodala, went a Curry-like 4-for-6 on threes and scored 18, second only to Klay Thompson’s 32.
Yeah, Thompson was good. It seemed like he played four separate games — he started out 2-of-7 and seemed a little too trigger-happy. Then he caught fire for a bit, and throughout he seemed intent on driving to the basket more than we’ve ever seen. It worked, too … mostly.
“I still think I had a few bad shots tonight, so there was room for improvement,” Thompson said.
“But knowing Steph’s not playing, (I) just kind of picked up a little playmaking … have to get in the lane and put it on the rim. Because we’ve got such great offensive rebounders, something good is going to happen.”
It also helps that the Rockets don’t seem to care that much about what happens in this series. The most obvious culprit is Dwight Howard, whose mind appears to be somewhere else at times. A Houston reporter asked J.B. Bickerstaff about Howard being “disinterested,” like it wasn’t even up for debate. Bickerstaff tried to shoot down that notion, but it’s impossible to deny that Bogut — and Green, to a certain extent — have taken up residence in Howard’s dome.
It wasn’t just Howard’s fault, however. The Warriors had the edge in points in the paint, fast break points, and second chance points. They ran more, passed more, and figured out ways to capitalize on rebounds and turnovers with greater efficiency than Houston. Opposing teams need to either pray the Warriors are completely off and/or coasting (good luck with the latter during a playoff game), or maintain a precise, disciplined style of play. The Rockets are neither precise nor disciplined. Now they know that even if Curry sits for the rest of this series, and even if Harden gets to the line a ton (like he did tonight, especially in the first half), they ultimately won’t advance.
Curry’s immediate future is nearly impossible to predict
Steve Kerr was asked whether their approach with Curry changes with the Warriors up 2-0.
“I’d like to think if it were 1-1 and he was still not able to play, we wouldn’t play him. We’d never want to put winning ahead of a player’s career and his health. We’ve seen teams do that and paid for it. Players have paid for it in the past. So we want to make sure Steph is right and his foot is fine and healthy,” said Steve Kerr.
“So we’ll see how he responds the next couple of days, and if he’s not right obviously being up 2-0 does give us more cushion if we decide to sit him. But it will be based on his health, not the series score.”
One word caught my ear: “foot.” So far we’ve been told that Curry suffered an ankle tweak, which seemed likely since that same ankle was surgically repaired in May of 2011. But right after he suffered the injury in Game 1, it looked like he was rubbing his foot on TV while he spoke with a trainer on the bench.
So I asked, “You described Steph’s injury as a foot injury. Just to clarify, is it a foot or an ankle problem?”
Kerr didn’t seem to appreciate my question. I apologize for the lousy camera work, I lost sight of Kerr’s face with my phone while asking the question.
“I don’t know, honestly. It’s both. I mean, I’m not sure I know the difference. It’s the back of his foot, it’s underneath the ankle. It’s something down there,” Kerr said.
Nothing has been clarified, and it’s not like we have proof that the Warriors are trying to mislead anyone. Even if it’s more of a foot injury than an ankle injury, Curry could still miss a lot of time, and that’s what’s important here.
After what transpired on Monday night, Curry shouldn’t play in Game 3 unless he’s totally pain-free. In fact, there’s no reason for the Warriors to play Curry until the Rockets win a game.
— I shot video of the six threes Curry made, plus the last move he made during warmups before leaving the floor abruptly. The Warriors listed him as “out” about a half hour later.
— Thompson had jokes at the beginning of his press conference.
“Oh, it’s so much easier without (Curry) out there. When Steph’s on the floor, his man just sags in the paint and he doesn’t move the ball, he’s just a very selfish teammate. I’m just kidding, man. He’s the exact opposite of that.”
— Thompson was asked about the Warriors’ mental edge over the Rockets.
“I mean, I’m not in that position, so I don’t know totally, but it’s got to be tough, like you almost feel like you have to do everything right to beat us in a sense. Even when we’re not hitting shots, we can rely on our defense and grind out games and we proved that this year.
“We’ve got such great versatility 1 through 15 that we can throw such great looks at you.
You know, there is something to the slogan strength in numbers and it’s something we really do play by. We’ve got such a deep team. We always use it every night. Steve does you such a great job in rotations and matchups. We just match-up well with the Rockets, I guess.”
— I asked Green and Iguodala a similar question, and here was Green’s response:
— Here’s the exchange that ended Bickerstaff’s press conference:
Q: It seemed like Dwight was disinterested. Did you feel like you needed to talk to him about staying in the game and that kind of thing?
BICKERSTAFF: No, I don’t think he was disinterested. I thought he was good on the glass. I thought he was running. Give Bogut some credit, he does a good job with his size. He’s physical, uses his length, he pushes, he grabs, he holds, so I wouldn’t say he was disinterested. I thought he gave his effort. I thought he played hard. When he got it around the basket, he was efficient. I wouldn’t say he was disinterested at all.
— This was an important game to help the Warriors’ chances in future series, provided Curry can return. Not only have they decreased the likelihood that the series will go six or seven games (meaning more rest before the second round), but Iguodala was given a chance to play the way he did before he was named Finals MVP.
“I think we have guys with a lot of confidence and guys who do a lot of sacrificing and they kind of hold back their total game for the betterment of the team,” Iguodala said.
“So when guys are playing this well, it’s no surprise to us.”