No Curry, No Problem

The most succinct take on Monday’s Game 2 between the Golden State Warriorsand Houston Rockets came shortly after the second-quarter buzzer. With the Warriors up 66-58 despite not dressing presumptive back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry due to a right ankle injury, veteran wing Andre Iguodala met CSN Bay Area’s Ros Gold-Onwude for the channel’s halftime interview.

He proceeded to compare a playoff game to a scrimmage:

Now, to be fair, Iguodala pretty clearly meant that the experience of playing without Curry was similar to what he goes through in practice, when he usually plays without the league’s top scorer and shooter. Nevertheless, a number of viewers and fans on social media took his words as a description of the Rockets and the style of Game 2. And it’s hard to blame them, because Iguodala inadvertently captured the feeling of the matchup. The Warriors controlled this game and their opponent with an ease that’s rarely associated with the intensity of playoff basketball. The 115-106 win improved Golden State’s series lead to 2-0, but it also appeared to confirm that Houston lacks the focus to give the defending champions an honest challenge.

It’s hard to put any faith in the Rockets in large part because the dynamics of the matchup did not appear to change even with Curry out. The Warriors created shots in both transition and the halfcourt with relative ease, catching the Rockets on missed assignments and switches with enough regularity to feel like one or two missed opportunities would be replaced by several more chances in a matter of moments. Golden State shot 49.4 percent from the field (including a relatively poor 8-of-23 from deep) and 27-of-38 from the line, numbers that don’t communicate a high level of efficiency as much as an ability to get plenty of good looks. There was no point in the game at which the Warriors seemed unable to hold onto a lead or put themselves into a position to win. They encountered very little resistance.

It was telling that the Rockets couldn’t gain the upper hand when things went relatively well early on. For one thing, James Harden bounced back from a curious Game 1 in which he took zero free throws (for just the third time in his time with the Rockets) by getting 13 attempts in the first half, making 12 of them for the majority of his 16 points before the break. That return to form for the team’s offensive linchpin was attended by one of Josh Smith‘s random 3-of-3 showings from three-point range. Houston combined for 6-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc and 20-of-21 from the line, good enough for a 25-point improvement on their paltry 33 points in the first half of Game 1.

It didn’t help to the Rockets to a lead, though, because they managed to concede six more points than the 60 they gave up on Saturday. That number looks even worse considering Klay Thompson sat with two fouls earlier than expected in the first quarter, although he dominated the second to pick up 15 of his 20 first-half points. Otherwise, the Warriors didn’t have many unexpected or extremely promising early performances other than that of Andre Iguodala, who shot 4-of-6 on threes (including makes on his first three attempts) to get 14 of his eventual 18 points before halftime. The game was playing out both according to Houston’s plans and totally against them — they got the offense they wanted but couldn’t get enough stops to generate a lead.

The second half did not go as well for Houston, with Harden going to the line only three more times and finishing with 1-of-8 shooting from deep to ensure that he would not dominate for 48 minutes. Meanwhile, Thompson continued to take on the scoring load for Golden State on his way to tying his career playoff high with 34 points (8-of-20 FG, 3-of-8 3FG, 15-of-16 FT). Draymond Green did not have much of a scoring touch but impacted the game in other ways to finish with 12 points (4-of-12 FG), 14 rebounds, and eight assists.

More importantly, the Warriors played with a cohesion and unity of purpose sorely lacking on the other side. Golden State’s team concepts assure that the likes ofShaun Livingston (16 points and six assists) and Marreese Speights (nine points in 11 minutes) can contribute without Curry in the lineup, or that Harrison Barnescan be a useful defender and carry a scoring threat when he shoots 1-of-10 from the field. By contrast, the Rockets relied on individual offensive performances and little else. Dwight Howard was far from the only unimpressive player in the game, but his line — 12 points on 5-of-7 FG, 10 rebounds, four assists, a foul-out, and a minus-22 in 35 minutes — was emblematic of Houston’s struggles. He looked great on single possessions but failed to make much of an impact on the game.

The question now doesn’t appear to be whether the Warriors will win this series, but exactly how much energy they’ll need to expend to do it. It feels odd to call Curry an x-factor in the series, but Game 2 proved that the Warriors don’t require his presence to control the vast majority of a game vs. the Rockets. However, that task will probably be tougher at the Toyota Center for Thursday’s Game 3. Head coach Steve Kerr did not provide much insight into Curry’s condition in his post-game press conference, but it seems as if the immediate diagnosis is not dire. Given that the Warriors have a commanding 2-0 lead with the best player in the league having seen the court for all of 20 minutes, it stands to reason that his return would make a sweep more likely than not.

On the other hand, Game 2 seemed to suggest that the Warriors should remain confident no matter their superstar’s availability. The Rockets haven’t shown much pride or togetherness throughout this season. There’s no apparent reason to believe they’ll conjure that winning edge when the series changes venue.