Over the weekend, I’m not going to need any caffeine to wake my game up and go about my day. The anticipation I have for this Western Conference Finals matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets is the only jolt needed.
Between the intriguing matchups, the storylines and the sheer star power, the series we have been talking about for the last four months is actually becoming a reality, and it has me in a frenzy. Simply put, this has all the makings of a defining, iconic playoff series.
I don’t know if the Warriors-Rockets can or will live up to that kind of hype, but it should provide many thrills for NBA fans.
Let’s take a look at five keys for the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals that could determine whether the Warriors will be fishing during the NBA Finals, or whether they’ll be gunning for their third Larry O’Brien Trophy in four years.
Slowing down Clint Capela
The fourth-year center who grew up in Switzerland is having the best season of his career, and in the first two rounds of the playoffs, he’s outplayed All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns and defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert.
Capela has been an absolute menace on the boards, especially offensively, with 41 in ten games. Overall, he’s averaging a double-double with 14.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. He’s rolling so well off of the pick-and-roll with Harden, that he’s demoralizing teams with thunderous lob dunks, but he’s also impacting the game defensively with game-changing blocks.
To me, Capela is a huge X-factor. He’s not the most important, but he’s the most intriguing player in this series.
Defending the Pick-and-Roll
Give the Rockets’ head coach Mike D’Antoni credit for tweaking his offense. Instead of wanting to get a shot up with seven seconds or less, the Rockets are waiting until there are seven seconds left on the shot clock. Houston has become very deliberate with is offensive attack. Sure, the Rockets shattered the record for most three-point makes and attempts in NBA history (1,256 and 3,470!), but James Harden and Chris Paul will give the Warriors migraines with their incessant pick-and-roll.
The Rockets will no doubt look to get Stephen Curry switched onto the primarily ball handler, which will be either Harden or Paul, because one of them is always on the court. Want to double them off the screen? Be careful with that, because P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza or Eric Gordon will be waiting on the wings, wide-open for a dagger three. The Warriors must figure out how to limit the Rockets damage off the pick-and-roll.
Klay Thompson’s scoring
There’s no doubt Thompson has one of the biggest challenges in this series, as he’ll try to defend and contain Harden and Paul while running multiple defenders through off the ball screens. In this series, Thompson can ill-afford to go 4-for-20 from the floor, as he did in Game 2 of the West Semifinals against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Thompson is averaging 20 points per game shooting 44 percent from the three-point line so far in the postseason. He’s been consistent for the most part on the offensive end, especially when Curry was absent from the starting lineup. With all of the firepower, the Rockets posses on offense, I have a hard time believing the Warriors can win without Thompson’s offensive production.
Production from the Three-Wise Men
I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing that Greg Papa is rubbing off on me — who knows? — however, this nickname he’s given Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West has stuck with me. But that’s besides the point. These three wily vets will need to impact the game when they’re called upon by Steve Kerr.
Can David West slow down Capela, frustrate the youngster with his physicality and make a couple of his patented mid-range jumpers? Will Livingston be able to hit his baseline jumpers and hold down the fort during his 20-24 minutes? Iguodala may start, but if he can make the Rockets pay for doubling off of Kevin Durant, it’ll give the Warriors the boost they need.
They don’t have to light the Rockets up with points, but their passing, composure and understanding what needs to be done is vital for the Warriors.
Keeping James Harden off the free throw line
“The Beard” has a knack for flopping and getting to the free throw line, which makes him hard to watch at times, but fortunately for Harden, it’s a tactic that works. He’s averaging 8.1 free throw attempts a game in the playoffs, single-handedly putting teams in foul trouble. Whether it’s Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, or Andre Iguodala, defending Harden without fouling as well as keeping the Rockets out of the bonus.
It’s not the biggest key to the series, but if Harden makes a living at the charity stripe in this series, and starts clowning with his lethal ball handling and destroy defenders with his step-back jumper, it could become a series the Warriors will want to forget about.