In a game that saw the two best teams in basketball each play exactly how you’d expect them to, the Golden State Warriors beat the Rockets in Houston, 119-106, to take a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Despite the best efforts of James Harden and his 41 points, the Warriors managed to expose the Rockets’ weak points, and Houston will need to come out significantly improved in Game 2 if they don’t want to suffer the same fate.
At their best, like at the end of the second quarter, the two teams each played a free-flowing, back-and-forth game that showcased the otherworldly offensive talents of guys like Kevin Durant (37 points), Klay Thompson (28), Steph Curry (18 with eight assists) and Harden—who scored seven in one minute for his team at the end of the second to ensure that they went into the half deadlocked at 56.
But at their worst, like midway through the second half, this game was a lot of bricked threes, particularly from the stubborn, isolation-bound Rockets, who lost their shooting stroke in the third and with it, their chances of a win. The dagger came from Klay Thompson with four minutes to go, on a triple that put Golden State up by 10. Admittedly, it came after a missed over-and-back call in the Warriors’ favor, but even that’s not an excuse for Thompson getting the ball on the perimeter with enough space to build a house in.
At the risk of drawing too many conclusions off just 48 minutes of basketball, this series opener seemed to prove that the Rockets’ depth is still nothing compared to the Warriors. While Harden is undeniably amazing, Durant was able to cancel out his contributions, and Rockets role players like Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute all had plenty of opportunities but provided no spark, scoring a combined nine points in 75 total minutes. Guys like Nick Young and Shaun Livingston, meanwhile, scored when called upon, and Draymond Green put on a master class of how to affect a game without getting points, playing the strongest defense of anybody to go along with nine rebounds and nine assists.
This match-up has all the makings of a classic series, not only because of its quality of teams, but also due to its competitors’ clear disdain for each other. In just the first quarter, both teams got physical, with—no surprise—Draymond at the center of it all. But if this series is going to last long enough for any real bad blood to develop, the Rockets are going to need to do some problem solving. Unless the Warriors stumble, the Rockets don’t have enough firepower to take them down in a straight-up shootout. They’ll have to be more creative than they were tonight to come away with wins.