With the first two games of the Western Conference Finals in the books, five Warriors bloggers give their take on the series thus far.
After winning the opening two games of the series at Oracle Arena, the Warriors travel to Houston for Game 3 on Saturday night. In the meantime, we thought we’d check in with some Warriors bloggers to get their take on the series thus far. Here’s what they had to say:
1. What’s your biggest takeaway from the first two games?
Adam Lauridsen, Fast Break: My biggest takeaway from the series so far is that the MVP voters got it right. Stephen Curry deserves to be the MVP, but James Harden also was a worthy runner-up. They've both been tremendous in this series -- worth the price of admission alone -- and I can't wait to see how the respective coaches adjust their defenses to attempt to slow them down. I give the slight edge to Curry, despite Harden's brilliant shooting, because he's found a way to balance his own runs of red-hot offense with getting his teammates involved. When Harden really gets going, the rest of the Rockets often become spectators. That makes him easier for the Warriors to defend, as on the final play of Game 2, where there was no doubt that Harden was going to be the one taking the final shot.
Grant Hughes, Bleacher Report: I think my biggest takeaway is that the Warriors still have another offensive level to reach in this series. They've had no shortage of open shots in both games, and it was particularly obvious in Game 2 that the Rockets were only rarely denying the Dubs their first offensive options. This series (and these playoffs) have mostly been about defense for the Warriors, but if they can curb the turnovers and knock down a larger portion of the open looks they keep generating, we could finally get a huge scoring outburst.
You can feel it coming.
Steve Berman, Bay Area Sports Guy: These aren't the same old Rockets, something I mentioned after Houston came back in Game 6 against the Clippers. The Warriors were able to handle this team with ease during the regular season, and Golden State fans feared the Spurs, Clippers and Grizzlies far more than the Rockets before the Playoffs began, but something clicked for Kevin McHale's group. The supporting cast got them past L.A., and James Harden has been incredible over the first two games of this series.
Daniel Leroux, RealGM/WarriorsWorld: James Harden can carry the Houston offense against an elite defense. What makes Harden’s performance so remarkable is that the Warriors are not making any tactical choices that warrant changing like we saw against Memphis- a dominant offensive player has just beaten what Golden State has put in front of him. Klay has done well so far defensively but the league’s best Shooting Guard has made those shots and distributed through two games.
Jordan Ramirez, WarriorsWorld: No one in in the world is playing better basketball than Steph Curry and James Harden right now. LeBron James is dominating the Eastern Conference and is poised to make a ridiculous fifth straight NBA Finals, but the top two MVP candidates live in the Western Conference for a reason. Curry is leading a 67-win team to historic heights, allowing his teammates to flourish and being able to find and hit shots others wouldn’t dare to think about putting up. As for Harden, he’s a monster in transition and isolation situations, and is essentially the point-guard for a Houston team in dire need of additional contributions. Both MVP cases are on display, with Curry being the winner through two games. Watching them battle at Oracle Arena the first two matchups has been incredibly fun.
2. Relative to their typical level of performance, which player has had the best series thus far?
Adam Lauridsen, Fast Break: This series has been Shaun Livingston's finest moment as a Warrior. He's found another level of focus and intensity. When the Warriors are scattered and turning over the ball, Livingston calms them down. When the offense has stalled and good shots are hard to find, Livingston pushes the ball down court, gets excellent position in the post and drains a turn-around jumper or fights his way to the rim. I'm personally thrilled, after all he's done to regain his NBA career, to see him excelling in such important moments. Without his contributions in this series, the Warriors easily could be down 0-2.
Grant Hughes, Bleacher Report: Shaun Livingston's 16-point first half in Game 1 (the highest scoring half of his career), earns him this spot by default.
Not only has he been his usual, rangy self on defense, but he's also been uncommonly aggressive on offense. If he keeps making the Rockets pay on both ends, we may not see much more from Leandro Barbosa, who had more than his share of moments in the series against the Grizzlies.
I guess it's just Livingston's turn.
Steve Berman, Bay Area Sports Guy: Shaun Livingston stands out, since I can't remember one bad play he's made. Has he missed a shot yet? Alright, he's missed two (he's 10-for-12 so far this series), but he was phenomenal in Game 1 and he didn't do anything in Game 2 to make that game look like a fluke.
Daniel Leroux, RealGM/WarriorsWorld: Shaun Livingston had his second-highest scoring game of the season on Tuesday…in the first half. His sixteen points in the first two quarters buoyed the Warriors during a rough stretch and his playmaking helped key the most important run of the series so far- the 23-6 run with Draymond at center that erased Houston’s Game One lead before the end of the first half.
Jordan Ramirez, WarriorsWorld: Shaun Livingston has continued to prove his worth this postseason. As a quiet player that never dares enter the camera view or take the microphone, Livingston has and will continue to be under the radar, but there’s no denying his contributions so far this series. His 14-point second quarter in Game 1 helped keep the Warriors at Bay and set up an impressive comeback to take the lead by halftime. His ball-handling and awareness gives the Warriors another asset when going small, allowing Steph Curry to play more off-the-ball when deem fit. With only 14 minutes in Game 2, he’s earned more minutes heading into Houston. It’s just a matter of game flow as to how much he’ll play.
3. What has surprised you most through two games?
Adam Lauridsen, Fast Break: I'm surprised, and a bit amazed, with how effective the Warriors have been at keeping the Rockets from shooting threes. During the regular season, the Rockets attempted a league-leading 32.7 a game, making 11.4. In Games 1 and 2, Houston has attempted only 22 and 23, making only 8 and 7. I expected a bombs-away offensive approach from the Rockets, but they've spent most of their time against the Warriors fighting for points off the pick-and-roll and shooting long twos. Given the way Harden has been shooting, the Warriors are lucky he's been pulling up mostly inside the arc. The Rockets' biggest runs all season have been fueled by their long-range shooting, so I'll be curious to see if they find more threes in Games 3 and 4.
Grant Hughes, Bleacher Report: Other than James Harden's inability to miss contested, off-the-dribble step-backs from 18 feet?
Probably Houston's resilience. I thought Game 2 was clearly headed for blowout territory until the Rockets trimmed into the Warriors' hefty lead and pulled ahead in the third quarter. Considering their routine defensive lapses and relatively stagnant offense, it just didn't seem like the Rockets had a shot.
But they've kind of made improbable comebacks their calling card in these playoffs, and they've certainly kept things interesting in Games 1 and 2. I still think a better, more consistent overall effort from the Warriors could bury the Rockets, but at some point, we need to credit Harden and Co. for hanging tough and capitalizing on Golden State's mistakes.
Steve Berman, Bay Area Sports Guy: How poorly both teams have played after jumping out to huge leads. Maybe I'm accustomed to Memphis, which applies pressure to floundering teams like a boa constrictor after the lead hits eight or more. But the Rockets lost a huge second quarter lead in the span of a few minutes in Game 1, then the Warriors returned the favor in Game 2. It was odd to see two confident teams suddenly turn wooden and stagnant on both ends, especially since both clubs came back from enormous deficits in prior series (Houston against the Clippers in Game 6 and Golden State against the Pelicans in Game 3).
Daniel Leroux, RealGM/WarriorsWorld: It is a small point but Coach Kerr trusting Leandro Barbosa to defend James Harden. Kerr ended two quarters in Game 2 with LB guarding the MVP Runner-Up. The Rockets did not score on either of those possessions but it was shocking all the same.
Jordan Ramirez, WarriorsWorld: Corey Brewer hasn’t been nearly as effective I thought he’d be through two games. Despite similar minutes, his production couldn’t be further away from his last series that saw him average 11 points and 3.4 rebounds on 41 percent shooting. These aren’t monstrous my any means, but he has yet to fully establish himself on the offensive end. Coming home will do Brewer wonders, and a more chaotic, frantic pace is where Brewer shines. The drought won’t last much longer.
4. What adjustments, if any, should the Warriors make as the series heads to Houston?
Adam Lauridsen, Fast Break: While Steve Kerr has flirted with doubling Harden, flashing an occasional extra defender at him to force the ball out of his hands, I like the Warriors' refusal to concede the Rockets easy looks anywhere on the court by distorting their defense. That said, guarding Harden is taking a huge toll on Klay Thompson, and the Warriors likely will need more offensive production from him to steal a game on the road. I'd be interested in seeing Kerr rotate other defenders, like Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes, onto Harden for brief stretches. Kerr did this with Leandro Barbosa in Game 2 while Thompson was on the bench and got away with it. If he can do it with Thompson on the court, it may allow Klay the breather he needs to get into some sort of offensive rhythm.
Grant Hughes, Bleacher Report: More Riley Curry at postgame pressers.
Oh, and also better ball security. That's been the Warriors' most annoying habit all year, and unforced giveaways have made Games 1 and 2 far closer than they should have been. If Golden State doesn't value possessions more highly on the road, Houston could easily collect a win or two.
Steve Berman, Bay Area Sports Guy: It's time to give Klay Thompson a mental and physical break. Even Leandro Barbosa did a better job in his brief time guarding James Harden. That doesn't mean Barbosa should get a full-time assignment no one saw coming, but it's time to put Andre Iguodala on Harden for longer stretches, if not the majority of Iguodala's minutes. Thompson is doing a good enough job against Harden when it comes to forcing semi-difficult jumpers, but Harden is scoring and creating at will. Plus, the fatigue caused by chasing Harden seems to be affecting Thompson offensively.
Daniel Leroux, RealGM/WarriorsWorld: Moving to a 7.5 man rotation with the starting five, Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli as the next man up when necessary. Harrison Barnes (averaging just 30 minutes per game despite less challenging assignments on both ends), Iguodala and Livingston can all shoulder bigger assignments and ensure the Warriors get 48 quality minutes from every position.
Jordan Ramirez, WarriorsWorld: Is limiting on the turnovers an adjustment? If so, the Warriors will be far better off taking care of the ball with sharper passes and a higher awareness for Houston’s defensive prowess. Aside from turnovers – which is less an adjustment than it is a higher attention to detail – Kerr should give his capable big men more minutes. While the inclination is to go small with Draymond Green at center for optimal versatility and faster pace, Bogut and Ezeli provide enough rim protection and rebounding to create extra possessions and a different look to a Houston team that likes to run. Bogut played extremely well in Game 2, and additional minutes – barring foul trouble – from him and Ezeli would do the Warriors wonders.
5. What do you expect from Game 3?
Adam Lauridsen, Fast Break: After two very tightly contested games, I wouldn't be surprised to see a blowout in Game 3. I'm not predicting which way that blowout will go -- either team is capable of it -- but it feels like one team or the other is due for an extended and unanswered hot streak. If the Warriors can keep Curry going and add a big scoring night from Thompson, Green or Barnes, I could see them pulling away from the Rockets and holding a lead. If the Rockets find consistent contributions from role players like Corey Brewer, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones, it could be the Rockets who push the game out of reach. We have a series between two big-run teams. So far, every run has been answered to keep the games close. It's made for tremendously entertaining (and tense) basketball, but I doubt it can be repeated night after night.
Grant Hughes, Bleacher Report: Maybe this is overly optimistic, but I think we get the Warriors performance we've been waiting for. The one where Draymond Green knocks down a couple of early threes, the defense generates some steals that lead to transition hoops and, most of all, the Warriors keep their foot on the gas until the end of the third quarter.
At which point the starters kick back and watch some garbage-time action.
That's basically the regular-season recipe that led to 67 wins, and we haven't seen it executed in this series yet. Fewer turnovers and more decisive offensive possessions could make it happen. If the Warriors sense an opportunity to end this series early by taking an insurmountable 3-0 lead, we could get the complete game we've been hoping to see.
Steve Berman, Bay Area Sports Guy: Even though the Rockets lost two games by a grand total of five points, I see the strongest Warriors victory yet in these Conference Finals. The Rockets gave it their all and failed in the first two games, while the Warriors played far from "A+ basketball" -- especially offensively -- and still prevailed. The Warriors' poise on the road has been impressive in these playoffs, as they seem to get tunnel vision and focus on how they've won all season: ferocious defense and offensive ball movement that's both quick and precise.
Daniel Leroux, RealGM/WarriorsWorld: Houston’s best defensive effort of the series and their role players hitting more of their shots. While the Warriors can survive those kinds of improvements, I expect it to resemble their other two Game 3's and be a dangerous opponent’s best shot.
Harrison Barnes could play a pivotal role as the Rockets have generally put Trevor Ariza on Klay so far. If Barnes can make James Harden work as a defender, it could have a negative effect on his offensive game like we have seen from Klay during the first two games and JJ Redick in Houston’s last series.
Jordan Ramirez, WarriorsWorld: I expect another close game with the Houston surrounding cast providing more of an offensive output. As the old adage goes, bench and role players are more comfortable at home, and while Harden’s production won’t see much of a dip (if any), I expect the others to finally help their cause. With a paltry 42 bench points through two games, the likes of Jason Terry, Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones should be in store for greater production. Houston’s role players should find their rhythm earlier in Game 3, with a higher point total for both teams and another close, nail-biting finish once again. The superstars in the series have performed up to their name, it’s the surrounding talents that have decided the victor through the first two games. The case should stay the same for the next slew of games in Houston.