5 Clutch Points: Warriors ride game-long intensity to 2-0 series lead vs. Rockets
Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals didn’t disappoint, as two determined teams clashed once again at Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors grabbed a 2-0 lead on the Houston Rockets by correcting their mistakes and showing a brand new level of intensity, but the long wait until Game 3 in Clutch City will leave plenty of question marks as the bulk of the series approaches.
Here are 5 Clutch Points from Game 2 of Warriors-Rockets:
Dubs engaged early
Following a feel-out Game 1, the Warriors couldn’t wait to get back on the horse and change the narrative of landing zones and officiating and put it right back where it belongs — in their play.
Andre Iguodala got the defending champions off to a 6-0 start with a turnaround jumper over James Harden, a foul shot, and a corner three to set the pace. Defensively, it would be Golden State’s best offensive player, Kevin Durant, setting the standard. KD forced a determined Clint Capela to shuffle his feet under the basket and took a charge on a driving James Harden in the next possession — setting the tone for the game.
The Warriors pounded the Rockets on the glass, considering they’re running the smallest lineup they have on hand, as a 6-foot-7 Draymond Green out-muscled Capela for offensive rebounds in the first quarter.
That would be a recurring theme for the game, as the Warriors had outrebounded the Rockets 14 to six in the first half and 18 to 10 overall. For a team that shoots so many long jumpers like the Rockets, offensive rebounding is a must to win a game, and that primordial ingredient clearly lacked as their relentless opponents constantly battled for second chances.
Green had a game-high 12 rebounds, with five of them coming on the offensive glass. Andre Iguodala had four in 32 minutes, while the bench didn’t fall far, racking up eight offensive boards in 50 combined minutes of play.
Effort is everything in this series, and it showed on Tuesday night with the Warriors grabbing a 2-0 lead.
Stephen Curry was the first to hit the sidelines early, dislocating his left middle finger early in the first quarter after attempting to come up with a steal on Clint Capela and jamming his finger badly in the process.
Curry looks like he jammed his hand on the ball when Capela was driving to the hoop. pic.twitter.com/l6nwiNLLfF
— Casey Pratt (@CaseyPrattABC7) May 1, 2019
Not long after, James Harden would get poked in the eye by Draymond Green, as the latter tried to tap away a rebound.
James Harden got hit in the eye by Draymond Green pic.twitter.com/Vi3eCDmooq
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) May 1, 2019
Green would soon after apologize to Harden, letting him know it was unintentional. Harden left the court and stayed in the locker room and later in the sidelines until the second quarter, still struggling to adjust his eyes to the bright lights of the arena.
Draymond Green was spotted apologizing to Harden after striking him in the face pic.twitter.com/rOe8dMUMD7
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) May 1, 2019
Curry would come back to play in the second quarter, with his middle and ring fingers taped together, still experiencing some discomfort dribbling with his off-hand and shooting the ball, as the feel for it becomes no longer the same with the fingers bound together. However he would get his redemption on Capela, with a spectacular left-handed block that was worth the pain.
CURRY BLOCKED CAPELA???pic.twitter.com/Z5wItvXqY5
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) May 1, 2019
Following the game, Curry was asked if it hurt to get the block so soon after the injury. Here is the exchange:
“What you think?” Curry smiled.
Do you regret it?
“Nah, I ain’t got a block like that in a minute,” he said. “So I’ll take the pain.”
With three days of full rest before Saturday’s Game 3 in Houston, it will be interesting to see how Curry and Harden respond to their respective injuries, given the major part they play in their teams’ success.
While the officiating was the narrative in a controversial Game 1 of the series, that hardly was the case in Game 2.
Both teams came out determined to make plays at both ends and it certainly looked like a concerted effort to bark less and play more, to their collective credit.
However the monster that has been the relationship between players and officials reared its ugly head again, as Draymond Green and Nene were hit with double technicals at the end of the third quarter from referee Ed Malloy.
Ed Malloy single finger Cleopatra Double T! pic.twitter.com/tfBZCHsLbI
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) May 1, 2019
If this looks familiar, it is because Malloy has a habit of policing the game with double-technicals, and has throughout the last few years.
It only takes looking back to Game 1 of the Warriors’ first-round series against the L.A. Clippers, where Malloy hit Kevin Durant and Patrick Beverley with double techs, despite having only a friendly back-and-forth after some spirited play.
Durant and Beverly double technical pic.twitter.com/SLcwGaRJmg
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) April 14, 2019
This way of policing the game surely seems effective for Malloy, but it is in fact lazy and irresponsible, drawing to the heart of players’ complaints with today’s officials.
Malloy has been around the block as an official, as this is his 18th year in the NBA. Yet coming to quick conclusions instead of warning players verbally and finding out what the issue is between them is no way for Malloy to endear himself or forge a working relationship with the players.
It’s this type of action that often irks players and makes them feel as if the officials have no interest in communicating with them.
Basketball is a game of adrenaline, of intensity and at times, pride. It’s unlikely Nene and Green’s interaction would have escalated into a full-blown fight, but Malloy’s quick trigger-finger wouldn’t know it.
Most are expecting the technical fouls to be rescinded, but if not, it would be Green’s third of the postseason, putting him four away from a one-game suspension under NBA playoff rules.
The last two minutes of the fourth quarter were a near-disaster for the defending champions.
The Warriors managed to carve out a 12-point lead (108-96) with 1:56 left in regulation, yet a Chris Paul layup and a couple of careless Kevin Durant turnovers could have nearly cost Golden State the game.
The Rockets would be at striking distance with 1:20 left after a pair of Paul free throws and another two freebies from P.J. Tucker after both were fouled following the turnovers.
Eventually, a 29-footer Paul miss would give the Warriors breathing room after securing the rebound, putting Stephen Curry on the line for an automatic two.
Kevin Durant made 3-of-4 from the line, giving the Warriors a nine-point lead (113-104) as the Rockets tried to climb back into the game late, yet an Austin Rivers three and a Curry turnover in an inbounds play gave the ball back to Houston for a James Harden driving dunk to cut the lead to four with three seconds remaining.
The clock was the Warriors’ biggest friend, as those three turnovers turned what could have been a cruise-away fourth quarter into a heart-pumping finish.
Golden State was much more disciplined throughout the game and only committed 12 turnovers in the entire game, but those last three were costly, reflecting a series of poor judgments and habits, stemming back from the regular season.
The same was true in Game 1, as it was a Durant turnover that eventually set up a Harden missed three that would have tied the game, had it gone in.
The Rockets know to trap Durant in late-game situations, and so far they’ve gotten three turnovers out of him in two crucial instances throughout this series.
Three days until Game 3
The Warriors and Rockets will have three full days of rest until they meet again on Saturday, this time in the Toyota Center for Game 3 of the series. Houston now has a 1-10 playoff record playing at Oracle Arena since 2015, making it imperative to win both games at home if they hope to have any chance to get back in this series.
However, Golden State has won an away game in an NBA-best 20 straight playoff series, and they are coming off from winning three road games at Staples Center in their first-round matchup against the Clippers.
So far, the Warriors have found different means to win, but their concerted effort on defense and the insertion of Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup has proved the difference in stopping James Harden through two games.
Let’s remember that Iguodala was a one-man wrecking crew against Harden and Chris Paul last postseason, limiting them to one field goal in 41 one-on-one encounters throughout the first three games of the 2018 Western Conference Finals — before he was sidelined for the rest of the series.
If Iguodala can remain in good health and draws those same assignments, it might just be enough to steal a road game in Houston, despite the Warriors losing one of their two regular season matchups at the Toyota Center.
The series will ultimately hinge on how these three days of rest translate in terms of health for Stephen Curry and Harden after their respective injuries, as the two former MVPs are bound to have an impact throughout the next few games.
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