- The Houston Rockets are the first team in the past four years to start with home-court advantage against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA playoffs.
- Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Monday may be critical for the Rockets, as they’d to prove they can beat the Warriors to avoid falling into an immediate hole in the series.
- If the Warriors steal Game 1 in Houston, their mental advantage may be too great as they take back home court later in the series.
When the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets kick off the Western Conference Finals on Monday, the Rockets will hold something over the Warriors that no team over the past four years has enjoyed: home-court advantage.
Since Steve Kerr took over the Warriors in 2014, they have locked up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and the best record in the league, ensuring home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
That changed this year with the emergence of the Rockets, who went 65-17 to steal the No. 1 seed while convincing the NBA world they were a threat to the Warriors. Now they begin the series in Houston, something that was so unusual to Golden State that some players reportedly booked the wrong plane tickets for family members.
Only one team has ever stolen home-court advantage away from the Warriors: the Oklahoma City Thunder, who went up 3-1 on the Warriors in 2016 before the Warriors mounted a comeback to win the series. A huge factor in that series was that Games 5 and 7 were in Oakland.
Any advantage over the Warriors is precarious. They’re so good that they can quickly overcome any odds, whether it’s blowing open a close game or erasing a lead in minutes. It’s what makes Game 1 so critical for the Rockets.
Game 1 could determine the Rockets’ season. The Warriors aren’t just a difficult team to beat on the floor – they’re a psychological threat. Houston’s two leaders, James Harden and Chris Paul, are trying to overcome past postseason letdowns. The Warriors will be waiting to strike in Game 1, but if the Rockets can win on Monday, it could give them a huge mental lift.
The Warriors need to win only one game to steal home-court advantage. If they win Game 1, that makes Game 2 a must-win for the Rockets. If the Rockets fail to win Game 2, they would have to go to Oakland trailing 0-2, and their season would very likely be over. The Warriors are 25-5 at home in the playoffs since Kerr took over.
A win in Game 1 would give the Rockets the confidence that they can beat the Warriors. The Warriors could turn around and win Game 2, but the Rockets would at least return to Houston for Game 5 knowing they could beat the Warriors there. Falling into an 0-1 hole would give no assurances of a Game 5 and put the Rockets’ backs against the wall.
The Warriors also thrive when they smell blood. After losing to the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 3 of the semifinals, Kerr turned to the “death” lineup to give them a better chance of winning Game 4 and sending the series back to Oakland to wrap it up. His team did just that.
If Golden State goes up 1-0 on Houston, there’s a chance Kerr would turn to his ultimate weapon early to try to put it away. The Rockets are perhaps the best-suited team in the NBA to match up with the death lineup, but the Warriors would be in a golden position to take control of the series.
It’s easy to deem each passing game the most important in a seven-game series – but if the Rockets lose Game 1, the series may be over before it gets going.