Game 4: Golden State (63-27 SU, 39-50-1 ATS) at Houston (57-32 SU, 44-42-3 ATS)
When: 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Free NBA Pick: Warriors ATS
Best Line Offered: 5Dimes
The Rockets are turning out to be a different opponent for Golden State in two key respects. One, the Warriors are taking them seriously because they took them to the brink of defeat in last year’s playoffs. Two, when the Clippers beat the Warriors twice in the first round, they accrued 104 points in the paint. It’s unsurprising that Houston is unable to replicate L.A.’s success inside because its interior scoring has been worse all year. Whereas the Clippers ranked eighth in the regular season in points in the paint per game, the Rockets ranked last.
Besides pointing to the fact that a “worse” team beat the Warriors twice, Rocket backers may want to derive hope from the small margin of victory that separated these teams in first two games of the series. The problem with that line of thought is that Houston has yet to really threatened Golden State’s control in this series. The Warriors have led for 89:03 to Houston’s 4:01.
In Game 2, the Warriors had a 10 point lead with 22 seconds left before losing a bit of focus. The most impressive aspect of its lead was its poor shooting. Houston’s three-point conversion rate was 11.9 percent higher than Golden State’s. Star Warrior shooters Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have yet to get going. Both have been dealing with injuries and Curry’s fingers are taped. Even if Curry is unable to find his shot, I expect Thompson to get much better lift on his shots after getting to rest his ankle for more than three days.
Kevin Durant and Draymond Green have been difference-makers for Golden State while Curry and Thompson remain unspectacular. Durant has scored 64 points so far and he does it in so many ways: driving the basketball, in transition, getting to free throw line, pulling up for mid-range jumpers, in the post, three-pointers off the dribble and off screens, etc. Green continues to be a great facilitator with his superb vision, dicing the Rocket defense for 16 assists in two games. A healthy Andre Iguodola, who was not healthy in last year’s series, has also been significant. He was +17 in Game 2.
Rebounding and turnover disparity have also proven to be difference-makers for Golden State. The Warriors have out-rebounded Houston by 18 in two games and they cleaned up their own mistakes to win the turnover battle by six in Game 2. Golden State is playing smothering defense and, with four Rocket starters at 6’6 or shorter, it is enjoying an advantage in length that Houston is not equipped to undermine.
Whereas Green and Iguodola are supporting Durant well and at least Thompson (if not Curry as well) stands to improve his shooting efficiency, Houston is struggling to support James Harden. Relying on Harden to shoulder the load is worrisome in the first place given his comparatively lackluster and inefficient playoff history. Houston loves to get Harden going with isolation plays and so on, but the Warriors can afford devote more attention to him on defense given his lack of support.
In particular, Chris Paul has been disappointing with his slow rotations on defense and turnovers on offense (nine in two games). He is not the dribbler that he once was and he has lost a step in his older age, which is making it hard for him to create much separation from defenders.