- Ezra Shaw/Getty
- The Golden State Warriors beat the Houston Rockets, 119-106, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
- The Warriors were led by Kevin Durant, who poured in 37 points on 27 shots, hitting a variety of challenging, contested shots over Rockets defenders.
- Steve Kerr said after the game that Durant got the Warriors “over the hump” when he joined them in 2016 because he brings a unique skill set that they had previously lacked.
The Golden State Warriors handled a hard punch from the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Monday and still came out with a 119-106 win.
Despite the game featuring the two best offenses in the NBA, it turned into something of a slug-fest, with the Rockets and Warriors each turning to their best one-on-one scorers to carry the loads.
While James Harden delivered 41 points on 24 shots, Kevin Durant chipped in 37 points on 27 shots, doing the bulk of his work from the midrange over smaller defenders.
The recipe worked for the Warriors. On a night when Stephen Curry never got on track, Durant carried the offense for periods of time, receiving an extra 28 points from Klay Thompson, who feasted on open three-pointers when the Rockets’ defense broke down.
After the game, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr explained how Durant’s ability to go one-on-one and get good shots was the Warriors’ missing ingredient. They prefer to play an uptempo system that relies on ball and player movement. But when that breaks down, they have the luxury of going to Durant and asking him to get a basket.
“We want to keep the ball moving, but obviously Kevin is the ultimate luxury because a play can break down and you just throw him the ball,” Kerr said. “He can get you a bucket as well as anybody on Earth. This is why anybody would want him on their team. You think about a couple years ago, and we’re in the Finals, and we couldn’t quite get over the hump. Kevin is the guy that puts you over the hump. I don’t know what you do to guard him. He can get any shot he wants.”
The Warriors used to have to rely on Curry to get them baskets when the offense broke down. Curry is a defense-bending force, but when teams stay attached to him on the perimeter, he’s not quite as adept at breaking down the defense to get an easy shot inside. Likewise, as seen in Game 1, Harden’s baskets require a lot of work – series of dribble moves and hesitations to shake free for step-back jumpers or layups.
Durant, meanwhile, owns a simple advantage because of his height. At 7 feet, no wing players are big enough to contest his shots, and he’s far too quick for any big men. In Game 1, Durant went to work in the post and made difficult shots look easy, even against admirable defense by the Rockets.
It’s a close to indefensible as there is in the NBA. Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game that they can live with Durant going off for 37 points. The Rockets’ system is based on math. When their offense is running at its peak, they figure they can outscore teams with their barrage of three-pointers and layups. It makes sense that they wouldn’t fret too much about Durant’s explosion – there’s not much they can do about it anyway.
But D’Antoni did say the Rockets had to clean up their defense on shooters, namely Thompson. It’s representative of how lethal the Warriors are with Durant. Defenses naturally gravitate toward trying to stop a scorer who’s rolling. In the case of the Rockets, if a defense collapses on Harden, he can kick it out to players like Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, or Luc Mbah a Moute – good, sturdy role players who shoot the three moderately well. In Durant’s case, he can kick it out to Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry. He’s made life easier on the entire team.