Pre-media me wouldn’t have had a dog in the race, since my pre-media favorite team from Golden State had other things to do last night. But the NBA Draft Lottery is exhilarating no matter who your team might be, and I found myself noticeably anxious for no apparent reason for the nth straight year. I guess it’s pretty simple – there is a ton on the line amidst a goofy display of team representatives that don’t want to be there.
Until they are.
Fortunes change, and last night we saw the Wolves and Lakers win big, while Knicks fans got yet another kick to the groin.
Now, it’s onward to countless team and agent leaks with nonsense spewing from every corner of the Internet and probably in your backyard.
It’s why I am personally thankful that we have college analyst Ed Isaacson writing for us as he is a must-follow at this time of the year.
In the meantime, there was a game last night and it was pretty damn exciting considering nobody, including myself, thinks very much of the Rockets.
For Twitter adequateness never before seen on this planet, you can click here to get the goods.
CURRY ASSASSINATES THE ROCKETS IN GAME 1
The Rockets have an interesting lineup right now with Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Trevor Ariza providing one of the more athletic, versatile defensive frontcourts one could hope for. This presumes that Josh Smith isn’t killing you on the offensive end, that he’s engaged, and keeping mistakes to a minimum.
This also presumes that Howard isn’t getting injured as was the case last night when he was knocked out of the game with a knee bruise. But factor in MVP-candidate James Harden and a Jason Terry that made Chris Paul look less like the Point God and more like a Point All-Star – and now you’re talking about an interesting team.
The problem is that the only player that’s elite in this bunch is Harden, and the Warriors are so good that the Rockets need high-level performances from each of their guys to hang with this group. They did well to do what all road teams must do in Game 1, which is quickly hit the Warriors in the mouth, as they rode an early lead to a competitive game. But in the end they'd fall short as the game wasn’t quite as close as the four-point loss would suggest.
The Warriors lollygagged on both sides of the floor early, allowing the Rockets to shoot better than 60 percent well into the second quarter, while taking bad shots and losing 50/50 balls in the process. It was your classic heavy favorite/lack of urgency situation. The Warriors would eventually clamp down and get that team field goal percentage for the Rockets down to 46.5 percent, and they capitalized on 20 points off of 16 turnovers in the 110-106 win.
When the Warriors and Thompson look at the game tape, they might also want to cue up some tape of J.J. Redick covering Harden. Redick wasn’t trying to win every play by shutting everything down – both shooting and driving – but instead he conceded contested threes while knowing he had help on the interior from DeAndre Jordan. Redick literally stayed away from Harden as to minimize the chance Harden could draw a foul on him. It worked as well as any defense I’ve seen on the MVP-candidate, at least until it didn't, but it exceeded expectations and also provided a nice little blueprint for teams to follow.
Thompson is admirably trying to win both sides of the shooting/driving coin, and Harden constantly drove past him and many times into his patented stop-and-step-back fadeaway jumper, which Klay had no chance of defending because he had too much momentum going backwards. That long two was the engine powering the Rockets throughout the second half, but really every part of Harden's game was on display. Steve Kerr can say Thompson played it as well as anybody can -- which is what he's supposed to say -- and you might hear a lot about how Thompson did a great job forcing Harden into the shots the Warriors can live with.
It goes without saying that the Warriors will look at any and all options to improve on Thompson's performance.
Redick’s play is a classic cat-and-mouse play, the opposite of no man’s land, since you’re essentially daring somebody to take that contested three while at the same time you're back far enough to be very aggressive on closeouts. On the flip side, if you're Harden you can get as many contested threes as you want. The alternative is to play tight defense in an effort to bottle up the player, and some players don't like that, rather than letting a team's best player fire the ball up from deep. Redick and the Clippers were willing to live with that and Thompson and the Warriors weren't ready to concede anything. As it would go, they lost the matchup on Harden.
If we’re looking to see how good the Warriors’ coaching staff really is (and I think they're really good), let’s see if they identify that on tape and order Thompson to give another step of ground to Harden after he cooked him.
Howard’s knee injury is a killer if it costs him time or explosion, because he’s an irreplaceable piece that if hurt allows the Warriors to go to a deadly small lineup virtually anytime they want. Right now if I had to guess he’ll be playing in Game 2.
Ariza’s numbers during the postseason have begged for a positive regression and it is happening, with last night’s 7-of-10 shooting (including four threes) for 20 points a key in the Rockets keeping this close. His steal-and-three combo late in the game was vintage Ariza, and it speaks to the degree of difficulty for the Rockets here knowing that he simply must be great on both sides of the floor.
Terry was a net negative last night with his seven points on 2-of-9 shooting, two boards and three assists. He was doing a decent job on Curry until he started talking trash, which ultimately caused Terry to lose focus defensively and the MVP promptly torched him. Pablo Prigioni played well in his 15 minutes, scoring four points with four assists and a +10 in the plus-minus department. It wouldn’t be surprising if some of Terry’s minutes shifted to Pablo if that trend continues.
In fact, the Rockets’ bench was a positive for the most part with Clint Capela giving 13 good minutes, scoring nine points with four boards, one steal and one block on 4-of-4 shooting. Hackapela could be an issue but the Rockets are finding money in their couch with his play in these playoffs. Corey Brewer scored just nine points on 3-of-7 shooting with two boards in his 30 minutes, but his fast breaking and ability to cover the Warriors’ backcourt are a huge key for the Rockets going forward.
Terrence Jones started off strong and faded late, finishing with five points on 2-of-10 shooting, four rebounds and one block in 26 minutes. He’s their center when it’s crunch-time if and when the Warriors go to Draymond Green at center. Jones was underconfident last night and that will be something Kevin McHale talks to him about, because he has to be a .500 player for the Rockets to have a chance of winning a game.
Josh Smith’s 3-point shooting drew a lot of groans from the audience, but he hit 2-of-6 from deep which is basically his regular season and playoff average with the Rockets. In other words, it’s not a terrible shot for him right now. He finished with 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting, seven boards, five assists and three blocks in 27 minutes, and his versatility is a key to the Rockets’ switching defense.
This team has the potential to be good defensively, but so many bad habits accumulated during a year of poor defensive play are hard to break when the pressure is on. Live-ball turnovers aren’t helping, either. The Warriors were nowhere near their peak in terms of execution, either. This could get ugly in Game 2, especially with Howard hurting, and before you know it we could be looking at a pressure-packed Game 3 in Houston.
For the Warriors, Curry was electric with 34 points on 13-of-22 shooting, 6-of-11 3PTs, six boards, five assists, two steals and an adorable presser after the game with his daughter present. Also, look for the NBA to casually ask players not to bring their kids soon. The novelty will wear off and the reporter griping will continue.
Green nearly triple-doubled with 13 points, 12 boards, eight assists and two steals. Fire him up in DFS leagues – it’s there for him every night. Especially if Howard isn’t playing at full strength, this isn’t an Andrew Bogut series. He logged 15 minutes with just four rebounds and a steal to show for it.
Thompson has proven he can get frustrated when things aren’t going his way, and he hit 6-of-18 shots (1-of-7 3PTs) for 15 points, two boards, four assists, one steal and one block. He’s getting the Trevor Ariza treatment and though we all know he could get hot at any moment, this series is setup for owners to fade him. Shaun Livingston logged 29 minutes and was a plus-16, scoring 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting with seven rebounds, three assists and a steal. His length and versatility fit the opposition and I’d expect him to get similar workloads going forward.
Andre Iguodala (four points, four assists) is also a good fit for this series, but he didn’t give the Warriors much last night and was a minus-13 in his 23 minutes. My sense is he’ll be better going forward but not good enough to bet on.
If I was the Rockets I’d strongly consider slowing down in this series and turning into a James Harden slug-fest. The Warriors have all the depth and at Oracle their running game is lethal.
DRAFT LOTTERY RESULTS/DRAFT ORDER
NEWS AND NOTES
Kyrie Irving (knee, ankle) will play tonight in Game 1 against the Hawks. If you want to get a breakdown of that series, click here for my podcast. The last 40 minutes of that cast is just for you. Patrick Beverley has abandoned any hope of playing in the Western Conference Finals because he has pins in his hand still and it would be extremely dumb for all involved.