(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters/Kelley L Cox)
The least-heralded member of the “Hamptons 5,” Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala has been ruled as doubtful for Game 4. Iguodala sustained a bruised left knee in a collision with Rockets guard James Harden in the fourth quarter of Golden State’s 126-85 thrashing of Houston on Sunday night.
Iguodala is the best perimeter defender of Golden State’s vaunted “Death” lineup as both he and center Draymond Green do much of the dirty work on that end of the court while still making contributions offensively. Iguodala had ten points, three assists and three steals Sunday when the defending champs took a 2-1 series lead, and pending an X-ray, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP could be upgraded.
That was the only downbeat note for the Warriors, who got a breakout game from Stephen Curry as he scored a playoff-season high of 35 points, eclipsing his combined total from the first two games of this conference final. Curry scored 18 of his points in a dominant third quarter, hitting all seven of his shots from the field when Golden State expanded an 11-point halftime lead to 21 before pouring it on in the fourth quarter.
Kevin Durant added 25 points and Green added ten points, 17 rebounds and six assists as the Warriors racked up 23 fast-break points and outscored the Rockets 28-10 in points off turnovers after forcing Houston into 20 turnovers while committing just eight.
Harden finished with 20 points and nine rebounds as Houston suffered their worst playoff loss in franchise history and shot 39.5 percent. The Rockets also made just 11 of 34 from 3-point range after connecting on 29 of 79 from beyond the arc in splitting the first two games at home.
The series will shift back to Houston for Game 5 on Thursday night.
Three keys to the game
Looney next man up for Warriors - If Iguodala cannot play in Game 4, Kevon Looney will probably replace him in the starting lineup. Looney has averaged 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in his first postseason, but the biggest asset the third-year pro gives the Warriors is defensive versatility that allows Green to be a rover who can defuse pick-and-roll situations when the Rockets try to isolate Curry against Harden in their half court sets.
"Just excited that Loon comes in and works on his game every day," Durant told reporters during Monday's media availability. "When his opportunity comes, he knows that the work that he puts in -- we know the work that he puts in on a day-to-day basis. We trust him that when he gets the opportunity. I'm just proud that he comes in and works as a true pro every day."
Rockets may go a little less Curry hunting - Houston have made no secret about their want to isolate Curry defensively against Harden since the Rockets guard can get to the rim virtually at will against him. But too often during Game 3, they tried almost too hard to find that matchup and often were taking shots in the final seconds of their possessions.
That, combined with missing a whopping 23 shots in the paint and the 20 turnovers created an impossible hole to dig out of, and that is before considering Curry finally played like the All-Star everyone knows he can be.
"Could be, sometimes. When it wasn't working, yeah," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said about relying too much on that specific matchup. "We'll talk about that. But mostly it's just you've got to create the situation in the flow, and then take advantage of it if there is a situation to take advantage of. I like what you said -- not hunt it out as much as it should be in the flow."
The Warriors home dominance in numbers - The absolute thrashing of the NBA's best team by the reigning champs obscured the fact it was also Golden State's 16th consecutive postseason home victory, setting a league record previously held by the 1990/91 Chicago Bulls. The Warriors have won 11 of those games by double digits, including six by 20 or more (there is a seventh by 19).
They have averaged 117.9 points during this winning streak and outscored opponents by 17.1 per game while being held under 100 just once. Sunday's win also marked the seventh time in the run they have scored 120 or more points.
Matchup to watch
G Chris Paul vs G Klay Thompson - The Rockets need the Chris Paul from Games 4 and 5 against Utah desperately to turn this conference finals into a best-of-three. That Chris Paul totaled 68 points, 19 rebounds and 16 assists in closing out the Jazz while making nine of 16 from 3-point range.
Paul has totaled 29 points, 14 rebounds and ten assists while making 11 of 30 shots in the last two games and also has committed five turnovers. His 2.17 assists-to-turnover ratio in this series is well off his 3.08 mark for the entire postseason, and the point guard is five for 20 from beyond the arc in this series after closing out the Jazz with a torrid eight-for-10 effort from deep.
While the Warriors do not need Klay Thompson to pop off offensively, he is due to do so. The All-Star guard has totaled just 21 points on nine-of-25 shooting in the last two games after scoring 28 in the Game 1 victory. Thompson has also made just ten of 36 from 3-point range in Golden State's last five home wins after making ten of 14 to start the postseason versus San Antonio.
Houston Rockets projected starting lineup
PG - Chris Paul | SG - James Harden | C - Clint Capela | SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - P. J. Tucker
Golden State Warriors projected starting lineup
PG - Stephen Curry | SG - Klay Thompson | C - Draymond Green | SF - Andre Iguodala | PF - Kevin Durant
Durant's metronome-like consistency makes him a must-play for DFS. He has scored at least 22 points in all 13 playoff games and has averaged 29.2 points and 7.1 rebounds while shooting 50.2 percent. He also has racked up 17 assists in this series and has committed just two turnovers in the last two games after totaling four in the first one.
While everyone focused on Curry's 3-point struggles in the first two games of this series, he has still shot 50 percent or better in four of his seven playoff contests. And for all that talk of his perimeter struggles in those contests, he is still clicking at 37.3 percent (22 for 59) from deep.
Harden has averaged 28.7 points and 7.2 assists in this postseason and averaged 29.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in this series. His 3-point shooting of 33.3 percent (ten for 30) has been right around his overall postseason mark of 34.1 percent (43 for 126), though he is only five of 21 in his last three road games.
Clint Capela has averaged 10.0 points and 8.0 rebounds, off his overall playoff marks of 13.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, and he also has yet to record a double-double in this series after getting six in Houston's first two series wins.
The Warriors have been established as 8.5-point favorites to take a 3-1 series lead and are 5-1 versus the number in their last six conference finals games. The other trends in Golden State's favor are their 22-7 mark against the spread in their last 29 at home against teams with a road winning percentage of .600 or better and 13-6 mark in the last 19 games between the teams.
The reigning champs, though, are 5-16 against the spread in their last 21 games following a straight up victory and 10-22 in their last 32 against above-.500 teams.
Houston have bounced back well of late after losing against the spread, winning four of their previous five such contests. They are also 13-6 versus the number in their last 19 road games against opponents with a winning record and 11-5 in their last 16 on the road when those opponents have a home winning percentage above .600.
The over/under is 224 points, and the under has hit twice in this series after Sunday night's pummeling by Golden State. It was the ninth time the under has hit in the last 13 meetings between the teams and also the 12th time in 13 games the under has hit for Houston against Pacific Division opponents.
The under is also 6-2 in Houston's last eight conference finals game and 9-3 in their last 12 versus above-.500 teams. The under has also delivered in five of Golden State's last six overall, against conference opponents and Southwest Division teams.
For most of Sunday night's loss, D'Antoni had the face of a bemused coach who realized his worst nightmare: Seeing the Warriors operate at full throttle with no mercy. Skip the fact Curry finally had a breakout game because that would eventually happen. Also nervously gloss over the fact Curry is 19 for 24 on shots five feet and closer.
What has the Rockets coach nervous is the potential of rapid-fire spurts by the defending champions.
To a degree, this discounts Golden State's 11-0 run over the final 3:31 of the first quarter because Houston missed shots and the Warriors made four of eight in that stretch and got one basket on a follow shot by Iguodala.
It is more about the 10-0 run that took place in 97 seconds at the start of the second half. The Curry show when he scored three baskets in 66 seconds in a personal 7-2 burst and capped it with one of his trademark 30-footers as Oracle Arena went bonkers.
Those are the spurts that make a game go sideways, and the Rockets are not the first opponents to have been bruised and bloodied at Oracle Arena in such a fashion by the Warriors. D'Antoni, though, deserves some blame on both occasions for not blunting the momentum because he burned those timeouts a possession or two too late.
The challenge for both coach and team is making sure it does not happen again because the Rockets, for all intents and purposes, have no margin of error. They will not win this series going back to Houston down 3-1, two home games or not. Golden State are too good and too deep offensively to be held down three consecutive games with so much at stake.
If there is a silver lining of getting blown out of the building, it is D'Antoni need not do anything to get his players' attention. He knows there are adjustments to be made, but his players also know they have to play better from Harden and Paul all the way down the line.
That holds doubly true for Capela, Trevor Ariza and P. J. Tucker. In the Game 2 victory, the trio accounted for 46 points. In the losses around that contest, they have totaled 46 points.
There is pressure on Golden State, sure, but Iguodala's absence could be a blessing in disguise because it means they will have to focus on the defensive end to make sure Looney doesn't get hung out to dry. Not that Looney is a liability; far from it since he is a plus-16 in his 50 minutes of action in this series.
But much the way Quinn Cook could not handle the increased scrutiny in Golden State's first-round series against San Antonio, it will be a concern Looney cannot handle the increased minutes.
For all the talk of Golden State's offense, the other truth is they have held opponents to 98.6 points per game at Oracle Arena in the postseason and 31.0 percent from 3-point range. It is difficult to see the Warriors falling off so much defensively, Looney for Iguodala or not, where Houston is not only going to score 110 points but keep Golden State below that mark.
Look for the champs to hold serve at home and return to Houston with a 3-1 series lead after a 114-102 victory.
The game will be televised nationally on TNT and nationally in Canada on TSNN. Tip-off time is 9:30 pm EDT.
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