(Photo Credit: USA Today Sports via Reuters/Troy Taormina)
In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors blew the Rockets out of the water. Despite Houston’s dominant season, they didn’t appear to have the ability to keep up with Golden State with all of Durant, Curry, Thompson, and Green playing at a reasonably high level.
Those concerns were put to bed in Game 2 though, with the Rockets putting in a sensational offensive performance to run out 127-105 winners, and level the series at 1-1. It was the second string Rockets who propelled them to victory; PJ Tucker scored 22 points on 8-for-9 shooting (including 5-for-6 from long range), Trevor Ariza had 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and Eric Gordon hit six 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 27 points.
Three keys to the game
Steph Curry’s fitness – Curry is starting on the floor, so presumably, he’s ready to play, but he’s hampered by injury. In the first two games of this series, he’s gone 2-for-13 from long range and scored just 16 and 18 points. On Wednesday, he went 1-for-8 from beyond the arc, and all of his misses came up short. An injured Curry is better than no Curry, but Houston attacked him in a big way on their offensive end in Game 2 and scored a lot of points out, and the greatest shooter of all time wasn’t able to compensate at the other end of the floor.
3-point shooting – This is something that both teams are great at, but on Wednesday, Houston were far, far better. They went 16-for-42 from long range (inclusive of Harden going 3-for-15), while the Warriors connected on just nine of their 30 attempts.
Chris Paul’s health – After putting up a stat line of 16 points, four rebounds, six assists and three steals in 34 minutes of action, Chris Paul iced up his lower leg in the last quarter of Game 2 and headed off the floor, seemingly significantly hampered. Houston have said he is ready to play though this does not mean he is 100%. If he’s off, his Rockets will need to see another similar performance from their second-string players, and a big game from Harden.
Matchup to watch
Chris Paul vs Steph Curry – Both of these two are surrounded by injury clouds, but they are also both in their respective sides’ top two most important players. Paul, with his defensive nous and experience, is an ideal matchup for Curry, and with the Warriors’ guard seemingly unable to get the usual pop in his shot, is doing a great job restricting him so far this series.
At the other end, Paul and whichever Rocket ends up being guarded by Curry on any given possession will no doubt continue to attack him. Paul is more than capable of producing plenty of points for his team in this way, though the Rockets will probably look to switch Harden onto Curry and let the Beard go to work on the injured Warrior.
Golden State Warriors predicted starting lineup
PG – Steph Curry | SG – Klay Thompson | SF – Andre Iguodala | PF – Kevin Durant | C – Draymond Green
Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup
PG – Chris Paul | SG – James Harden | SF – Trevor Ariza | PF – PJ Tucker | C – Clint Capela
Durant has been close to unstoppable through the first two games of this series. In the first, he went 14-for-27 for the field on the way to 37 points, while in the second he went 13-for-22 for 38 points. He has contributed remarkably little else statistically – just six rebounds, one assist and one block combined for the series – but he is doing more than his share of the scoring load.
The over/under points total is set at 226.5 points, and the over is a good bet. Both sides are obviously potent offensively, and while they are also both fantastic defensively, the chances are at least a couple of players get sufficiently hot to take the game total over this margin. Wednesday’s game saw 232 points being scored; expect something similar in this one.
With the series heading back to Oakland, the Warriors will be too strong for the Rockets and will take a 2-1 series lead. Houston were sensational on Wednesday, but for them to win this one they’ll need similar performances from players like Ariza and Gordon, and more from Harden. The likelihood of the former two, and Tucker, playing like they did in Game 2 is minimal, and Golden State will lift their offense up a notch at home.
Durant will continue his great form with 30+ points, Curry will no doubt find his shooting touch at some point, and Thompson will take more than the 11 shots he took in Game 2. All of this will result in too many points for the Rockets to keep up with, and Golden State will end up 119-111 winners.
The game will be broadcast locally on TNT. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.
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