Taking a look at what the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets need to do in Game 7 to emerge from the Western Conference Finals.
The teams have traded blows throughout the Western Conference Finals and Golden State have already managed a win on Houston’s floor (Game 1), so while the Rockets will benefit from home-court advantage, several other factors will be at play.
Here’s a breakdown of adjustments and areas to watch for both teams heading into the most important game of their season.
Move the ball
It sounds obvious, but Golden State have to start Game 7 with the same offensive approach they had to close Game 6. That means less Kevin Durant isolations and post-ups, and more of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson cutting and coming off screens.
But the Warriors should liberally use their three offensive stalwarts in on-ball actions as well, with various pick-and-roll combinations, especially with Thompson as the screen-setter. The sharpshooter has been deadly in those spots in this series, often slipping early for a spot-up look. It’s challenged Houston’s switch-everything scheme, catching them off guard with the timing.
The Rockets were impressive in the first quarter of Game 6 when they built up a 17-point lead, but they were helped by Golden State mistakes. Specifically, the Warriors struggled to pick-up Houston’s shooters in transition – not just on fast-breaks, but off makes as well – and didn’t apply much ball pressure in the half-court.
Especially with Chris Paul out, the Rockets want to get up as many 3s as possible, so players like Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza aren’t going to be shy in launching right off the catch, whether there is a defender nearby or not. The Warriors have to make it harder on Houston by taking away many of those looks and forcing them to put the ball on the floor.
Houston are averaging 19 turnovers in their three losses in the series, which have resulted in 22.7 points per game for Golden State.
Some of these turnovers have been the kind you expect against a formidable defence, like strips and shot-clock violations. But a lot have been inexplicable, such as errant passes and mental lapses. The Rockets have to clean that up and take care of the ball, otherwise they’ll give Golden State’s offence even more ammo in transition.
Play through others for stretches
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, Houston may fare better by relying a little less on Harden with Paul likely out again.
The reason? The Rockets are basically playing a six-and-half-man rotation, with Luc Mbah a Moute getting fringe minutes. Coach Mike D’Antoni doesn’t have any other players he trusts, so there will be a large burden on Houston’s regulars, including Harden obviously.
But pushing too hard on the pedal with Harden early could wear him out by the end of the game. Gordon has to get more of the shot-creating responsibility as a ball-handler to keep Harden fresher. It will be a delicate balance for D’Antoni, but it’s not untenable if managed better.