The Western Conference Finals get underway in the Lone Star State with the two teams that most expected to be here squaring off. The second-seeded Golden State Warriors are on the road for Game 1 of their best of seven set with the top-seeded Houston Rockets Monday night. Golden State knocked out San Antonio in five games in the opening round and beat New Orleans in the conference semifinals in five games after taking Game 5 113-104 at home Tuesday night. Houston beat Minnesota in five games in the first round and dispatched Utah in five in the conference semifinals as they took a 112-102 win at home Tuesday night. The Rockets own a 121-92 edge in regular season wins and took two of three this season, including a 116-108 home win in the last matchup January 20. In the postseason, Golden State has won both previous series and holds an 8-2 edge in head to head playoff wins.
Golden State Warriors Look to Maintain Their Swagger
Golden State has lost just twice in the opening two rounds of the postseason and they’ll look to maintain that momentum now that the team is healthy again. The Warriors had little problem brushing aside San Antonio in the first round and then had to play a run and gun series with the Pelicans in the conference semifinals. Defense was optional against New Orleans as only once in the series did a team get held under 100 points: that came in Golden State’s 118-92 win in Game 4 to give them a 3-1 series lead. Can the Warriors play tighter defense like they did against the Spurs against the Rockets or will they find themselves in another up and down the floor type of series here?
The Warriors are shooting 46.9 percent from the field in the postseason as a team this year. Golden State is converting 9.8 three pointers a game despite shooting only 32.9 percent from beyond the arc. The Warriors have been good at the charity stripe, cashing in 81.6 percent of their chances so far. In Game 5, Golden State shot 48 percent from the field and converted seven of 27 three point attempts. The Warriors hit 10 of 12 free throws, held a 26-19 edge in fast break points and had 24 points off turnovers in the victory. Stephen Curry led Golden State with 28 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in the win. Kevin Durant added 24 points, six rebounds plus seven assists, Klay Thompson finished with 23 and Draymond Green chipped in 19 points, 14 boards plus nine assists. When their quartet of All Stars are firing on all cylinders, the Warriors don’t need much from the rest of the group. Golden State broke open a close game with a 36-19 bulge in the third quarter to go up 20: the Pelicans couldn’t draw closer than seven the rest of the way.
Houston Rockets Try to Defend Home Court Advantage
Houston has been rolling along all season, following up their 65 regular season wins with eight wins in 10 postseason games. The Rockets have lost just twice in their last 27 games at the Toyota Center though one of those came in Game 2 against the Jazz. Houston quickly regrouped, putting the boots to Utah in Game 3 then leading wire to wire in Game 4 before putting the series away with some hot outside shooting late in Game 5. While the Rockets won by double figures, it was a one point game when the Jazz’s star rookie Donovan Mitchell went down with an injury. The Rockets now have to deal with a team that has made three straight NBA Finals appearances: are they up for the challenge?
The Rockets have had all kinds of problems shooting the ball in the postseason. Houston enters this contest shooting only 44.6 percent from the field in the series. The Rockets’ three point shooting has been inconsistent as they hit 35.3 percent from beyond the arc while draining 14.1 three pointers a game. They hit 79.5 percent at the charity stripe. In Game 5, Houston shot 48.2 percent from the field and hit 18 of 39 three point attempts while going 14 of 17 at the line. The Rockets took the lead for good right after Mitchell left as they went up 84-82 on a Gerald Green three pointer with 9:41 to go: Utah would get no closer than one down the stretch. Chris Paul led Houston with 41 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists in the win. PJ Tucker chipped in 19 points while James Harden finished with 18. Clint Capela (five points, five boards, three steals, five blocks) and Eric Gordon (two of eight, eight points) were non-factors offensively: they will have to step things up against the Warriors as it will be all hands on deck for the Rockets.
- No Key Trends
- No Key Trends
Both teams are healthy for this one, which is something that didn’t always happen in the regular season. In the second meeting of the year, a 124-114 Golden State win here, both Durant and Harden missed the contest. When the teams were healthy, Houston prevailed: they rallied for a 122-121 win on the road on Opening Night and then won the final meeting in late January. This is Paul’s first taste of the conference finals and after seeing his performance against the Jazz in Game 5, you know that he’s hungry and feels he has something to prove. This one is going to be a tough, uphill battle but you know the series winner is likely a heavy favorite in the NBA Finals. Playing at home, give the Rockets a slim edge here.
Pick: Houston Rockets -2
The early odds from the Vegas sportsbooks don’t show a ton of love for the Rockets in this series: Golden State started as a -185 favorite to win the series to Houston’s +155. Whether that’s based on the Warriors’ pedigree from the past three years and the experience gained from it or something else, it’s a little surprising. After all, the Rockets did win the two meetings in the regular season when both teams had all their superstar pieces. Golden State has to rediscover their perimeter shooting: after hitting 39.1 percent of their three point attempts in the regular season, they’re down to 32.9 percent in the playoffs. While many will point to a small sample size of 10 games, it’s still a concern because there’s not a lot of time to turn things around in a seven game series. Houston struggled in Games 2, 3 and 4 from the perimeter against the Jazz but was hot in Games 1 and 5: if the Rockets’ shooting from those two games show up, the Warriors could have their hands full.
These two teams are the top two teams in the league in scoring offense during the regular season and with Durant, Curry, Green, Thompson, Harden, Paul, Gordon and the rest of the three point bombers in the series, it’s expected to be a high scoring affair. The Rockets seem to have a little more faith in their bench group and if Capela can establish himself in the paint, forcing Golden State to adjust their rotation, it could make things interesting. With the way both teams like to run and gun, this one should push past the total, even if only slightly.