It was just eleven months ago that Golden State lined up against Houston in Game 5 the Western Conference Finals. The Dubs ended the Rockets season that night and advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years. On Wednesday night, the Warriors set out to end the Rockets’ playoff run for the second consecutive season.
This series has had a bit of everything from physicality, to lights out shooting, but if there’s one thing that we have learned, it’s that the Rockets only chance at winning lay in the hands of James Harden – and he did everything in his power to get his team over the line. The only problem was that his teammates didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm.
With Steph Curry sidelined by injury, Golden State were out to prove a point in Game 5, hitting their first two shots from long range, before the Rockets stopped the game.
Following the timeout, the game shifted from being Houston vs Golden State, to James Harden vs The Warriors, and it all went downhill from there.
At the end of the first quarter, Harden had scored 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting 6 from the field. That might not surprise anyone, however, when he was the only Rockets’ player to score a field goal for the quarter as his team mates shot 0 of 15 combined, it was obvious that things were only going to end in tears for the eighth seeded team. It took until 30 seconds into the second quarter before Patrick Beverley finally hit a jump shot and added to Harden’s contribution. With the exception of Harden, the remainder of the Houston team ended the game with a disappointing 19 of 73 from the field.
Post game head coach J.B. Bickerstaff spoke about the Rockets season.
“To me this isn’t about one game. It’s about the opportunities we’ve had the entire year – these years in the NBA are priceless, and aren’t guaranteed to anybody. So when you’re in these moments, you have to take full advantage. Unfortunately, we didn’t do enough of that this year. It put us in a very difficult position to play against the best team in the history of basketball.”
The first quarter ignited the Warriors and set the tone for the rest of the game. Coach Kerr said of his team’s mentality: “37 to 20 at the end of the quarter got us off to the start we needed, got the crowd into it, and we just played a solid game. We did the best we could on Harden, he’s impossible to guard, but we took care of the three point line and didn’t let anyone else get going. It was a great effort.”
One of the more under rated aspects of the Dubs’ game this season has been their defense. In Game 1 they shut down Harden completely, and heading into Game 5, Coach Kerr reinforced the importance that the team places on their defensive game.
“We talk about it all the time – everything starts with our defense whether Steph is healthy or not,” he said. “Our defense allows us to get out and run. If we get stops and steals we can get out in the open floor and we don’t have to stop the game and call a play. We don’t want to slow things down; we want to speed them up.”
His team delivered.
In a game dominated transition buckets from Golden State, defense was the key to pushing this game out of reach for Houston before we even hit the halfway point of the first term. The unselfishness exhibited all season from this team continued as players passed up shots in order to make the extra pass, and find a wide open jump shot or drive to the rim. Making the most of their opportunities, the Warriors racked up 10 steals, 29 assist and added 26 fast break points as they continued to build on their lead and rub salt into the wounds of Rockets players and fans alike.
“29 assists and 10 turnovers is a phenomenal stat line” said Kerr post game.
Draymond Green spoke about the importance of making a defensive impact to spread that floor on the offensive end during the early stages of the game.
“We’ve always got to focus on the defensive end, especially when Steph is out,” he said. “Tonight, we got it done on our defensive end and it really sparked our offense. Now you’re getting off in transition, you’re getting a couple of easy baskets, you get some open threes… and we were able to knock a few of them down. We really focused on locking in on the defensive end, so we could release that.”
In the absence of Curry, Shaun Livingston once again lead the way for the Dubs running the Curry playbook like it was his own, while Klay Thompson decided it was going to be his night knocking down 27 points, 21 of which came from beyond the arc.
Kerr praised the work of Livingston as he stepped up in this series.
“We’re blessed to to lose the MVP and [be able to] put Shaun Livingston out there. He’s a great basketball player, great team mate he had a terrific series.”
“We did not want to go back to Houston, it’s a long flight” added Thompson. “It’s always important to protect the home court, we pride ourselves on not losing games here, so it was a fun night.”
Speaking about losing heavily to a Curry-less Warriors, Coach Bickerstaff said, “They’re a good team. Obviously Steph is a great player, but their depth is something that we haven’t seen in a long time. Not only is it depth, it’s depth with skill.”
The Warriors will now face the winner of the Portland Trailblazers versus LA Clippers series next week.
Feature Image – NBA.com
Story Image – House of Houston