The Houston Rockets toiled all season to earn the top seed in the Western Conference, the best record in the NBA and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. But it took the Golden State Warriors just 48 minutes to make their statement and take back the home court edge.
In Game 1, the Rockets got a terrific performance from James Harden (41 points, seven assists, six rebounds) and a strong night from Chris Paul. They threw everything at the Warriors in the first quarter. But Golden State withstood the early onslaught and pulled away in the second half.
So, where do Houston go from here? Game 2 is now a must-win yet the Warriors offer so few flaws to exploit. Here are some of the takeaways from Game 1 as we look ahead to the rest of the series.
Houston’s wings have to play better on both ends
Part of the Rockets’ confidence heading into this series stemmed from having versatile wings capable of knocking down three-pointers and playing gritty defense. Those wings did not do enough of either in Game 1. PJ Tucker, Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute combined to shoot 3-of-17 on Monday night, with Ariza plagued by foul trouble. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant scored from anywhere he wanted.
Klay Thompson got countless clean looks - Houston have to clean that up
Durant’s ability to rise up and shoot over smaller defenders is tough to clamp down on. In some ways, you just have to live with that. But Mike D’Antoni was understandably frustrated by how often Thompson eluded the Rockets for open shots. On one second half triple, he had the whole left side of the court to himself. Thompson finished with 28 points, including 6-for-15 from behind the arc, and could have had more.
When Durant is locked in, the Rockets have to send more help
Durant’s ability to shoot over Tucker made that a lopsided matchup. But none of Tucker’s team-mates fared any better. Aside from better ball denial, Houston have to think about a double team if Durant gets hot in Game 2. The Rockets can stay attached to Steph Curry and Thompson while sending help away from Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala.
Harden is going to have to use a lot of energy on defense
Just as the Rockets targeted Curry as the most favourable matchup when they had possession, the Warriors looked to make Harden work hard defensively. That is sure to continue as the series progresses - and it will be interesting to see whether Harden wears down trying to stop Durant and Curry while also carrying the load offensively. Houston ran even more isolation plays than usual in Game 1. While it was effective, that is going to take a heavy toll on Harden and Paul, and it prevents the other Rockets shooters from getting involved.
Who wins the minutes when Durant and Curry are on the bench?
This is usually the window for clawing back into games against the Warriors, even Thompson and Green are typically still on the court. But Houston lost those minutes (-7) in Game 1. That has to change in Game 2 if the Rockets are going to square the series. They need to take advantage of every opening, however small.