Don’t get me fucked up. The Rockets have played a great series. It takes a team with serious firepower to make the Warriors think they need to force-feed Kevin Durant just to hang in a game.
But when the Warriors elect not to do that, when Draymond Green chooses not to drive on 3 defenders early in the shot clock, and the Warriors choose to limit unforced turnovers, the results have been predictable: enormous blowouts.
The Warriors margin of victory in their 3 wins in the Western Conference Finals has been nearly 28 points. The Rockets? Roughly 10 points, with a 22-point Game 2 win balancing out nail-biters in Games 4 and 5.
The Rockets defense has been impressive. What we’re not saying, however, is that the Rockets defense is impressive only when the Warriors first trap themselves into difficult situations.
I might not have the in-depth metrics an ESPN writer has on hand, but in WCF games where Kevin Durant has been the primary ball-handler, what has happened?
- Less assists
- More turnovers (many unforced)
- Limited effectiveness of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson
- More difficult shot attempts
After a bit of dirty work digging in the box scores, here’s a healthy serving of facts:
In the two biggest wins this series—the Warriors’ 41-point and 29-point routs in Games 3 and 6—Kevin Durant shot less than 20 times (19 and 17 respectively). In those same games, either Curry (Game 3) or both Curry and Thompson (Game 6) had more field goal attempts than Durant. In those games, they were an average of +10 on turnovers. In the one win where Durant took the most shots, they were +4. In their losses? -4.75. Those back-to-back losses in Games 4 and 5 were decided by just 3 and 4 points. That is everything.
This series has answered a lot of questions we’ve had all year about the Rockets. Yes, the Harden-Paul pairing is effective. Yes, the Rockets can adapt offensively and up their defensive effort to legitimately challenge the Warriors. But what this series has brought out of the Warriors so far has been even more profound.
The two different stories told by the Warriors’ wins and losses this series are answering questions we’ve had about the state of the NBA and basketball as a whole:
When you have one of the best 1-on-1 players of all time getting mismatch after mismatch, is iso truly a better style of play?
Is Steph Curry really more valuable to this team than Kevin Durant?
Do you make your best player defer to the team’s style of play, or build a style of play around your best player?
Is there such a thing as too much talent on a team?
The answer to each question goes right back to the essence of the sport, a team sport. It goes back to the Warriors’ death lineup. It goes back to the Thunder choking in the 2016 WCF, and a Durant-less Warriors team being the best regular season team of all time. We’re finding out just how amazing the team ethos of this Golden State team is, a team where three perennial all-stars could have easily made the whole franchise implode under the expectations while they fought for the spotlight.
Instead, the rare failings of Dubs in this series have shown us how goddamn impressive it is for a team to not fall into the trap of leaning on a superstar. The Warriors stumbling in this WCF has shown us that no amount of talent can save a faltering team, and no amount of talent is an excuse to slander a great team when they’re simply a great team. And when they put it together like they did in Game 3 or like tonight in Game 6, these performances should make you want to give this franchise even more credit than they’ve already received.
My girlfriend’s a huge Dubs fan, and I love seeing dynasties climb the mountaintop. As much as I want Chris Paul and James Harden to have a shot at the Finals, it would be a shame if we were robbed of the most beautiful team basketball on the planet to have that. Even worse, if we were robbed of it because the Warriors simply chose not to play how they know they can play. While some might interpret that statement as disrespect of the Rockets, it’s simply a testament to the greatness we’re fortunate enough to witness in this Warriors team.
If the Warriors miss open shots, miscommunicate on defense, and the Rockets simply outplay them in Game 7, I could rest easy. But if they play through KD, or get cocky and loose with the basketball, it would be a disservice to viewers everywhere. It would be a disservice to the game. Regardless, it is the Warriors’ choice. They’re that good.