After much hype and anticipation, the Western Conference Finals are finally upon us. But will they turn out to be all that we imagined?
Game 1 certainly didn't conclude with much melodrama. A double-digit Warriors win on the road makes this evening's Game 2 a virtual must-win for the Rockets before the series swings back to Oakland for Games 3 and 4. In order to reassert control over the series and keep the NBA Finals dream alive, here are five things Houston absolutely must do starting tonight.
5. Get Back in Transition
The Warriors are the best team in the league at getting out and initiating the fast break. A missed shot is almost like a turnover when you're facing the Dubs because of how quickly they change ends of the floor. They had lots of success in that department in Game 1, and if the Rockets want to get back in this thing, they have to limit those easy scoring opportunities.
4. Make Passing a Priority
These two teams have each played with very different styles throughout the regular season, but Game 1 may have been the clearest indicator of the season that says iso ball is not the most effective option. The Warriors are able to keep teams off-balance on the defensive end of the floor because of their elite ball movement. The Rockets, however, fall too much in love with standing around and watching while James Harden goes iso.
Making passing habitual in the offense will allow for guys to get a better chance to get into a groove and stay unpredictable. But Houston's going to need their role players to lock in first.
3. Get the Ball Out of Durant's Hands
The Rockets simply cannot allow Kevin Durant to beat them by himself, because he will. KD has been the Warriors' most consistent performer all postseason, and there comes a time where you've just got to get the ball out of the best player's hands. Unfortunately, that means that the Rockets could see a bigger helping of Steph Curry, but he still needs to prove that he's healthy and capable of rising to the occasion. KD is proving that he can. The combination of PJ Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Clint Capela needs to swarm Durant and force Curry to beat them.
2. CP3 Must Be More Aggressive
James Harden's usage rate in Game 1 was 41.3 percent. Compare that to Chris Paul's 24.7 percent and you start to see why the CP3 only had three assists in Game 1. Like Harden, Paul is an excellent initiator of the offense, but unlike Harden, Paul is more apt to get other players involved-- even to his team's detriment.
It's not that Harden needs to relinquish duties to Paul, but he certainly needs to have the ball in his hands a bit more than it was in Game 1, particularly when Harden is on the bench. It's time for CP3 to take charge.
1. Actually Run Offensive Sets
Yes, Houston is the iso capital of the NBA, but Golden State has a collection of some of the best and rangiest defenders in the league at its disposal.
Running a bunch of isolation sets that inevitably end in Harden step-back threes won't net enough points to outscore the Dubs. The Rockets need to incorporate more cutting and ball movement -- that is, actual offensive sets -- to to stay competitive. In other words, Houston needs to take a page out of the book of Golden State. Otherwise, their only hope is to cross their fingers and rain down three-pointers at a prodigious clip all game long.