Rockets guard James Harden. Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
- It took just 48 minutes for the Warriors to rip home-court advantage away from the Rockets.
- Game 1 featured too many turnovers and missed open 3s for the Rockets to survive against a team with generational talent.
- The lesson: Houston needs to play brilliantly, or it will lose.
HOUSTON — The margin for error was effectively zero. The line should have told you that. The Houston Rockets were favored by a measly 2 points at close in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals vs. the Golden State Warriors. By comparison, Houston hadn’t closed as anything less than a 10.5-point favorite at home in these playoffs, and you can bet the Warriors will be favored by more than two possessions in Game 3 in Oracle.
The fact that the line was so close, for a team that won 65 games and had home-court advantage with the likely MVP, tells you everything you need to know about this series. Houston exceeded its limited margin for error in Game 1, and now Golden State has stolen home-court advantage, which Houston needed 70-ish games to secure.
The reality is that Houston didn’t play badly. Sure, Luc Mbah a Moute was terrible, missing layups and open 3s. Eric Gordon didn’t attack enough. Chris Paul was only “OK,” nothing special. But James Harden and Clint Capela were phenomenal. The Rockets clocked the Warriors’ Hamptons Five lineup out of the gate, and found ways to draw fouls. They didn’t play awful, and still lost by 13 at home.
Two things, in particular, hurt Houston:
1. Their 16 turnovers led to 19 points. You can’t give Golden State more than 10 turnovers and let the Warriors convert those at a mark of more than 1.00 points per possession.
2. They missed too many open looks from 3, particularly from the corners. Their overall mark of 35% from 3 wasn’t bad, especially considering some of those looks were end-of-shot-clock heaves, as Mike D’Antoni mentioned. But missing open looks at home can’t happen if you want to hang with the Warriors.
If you’re looking forward in this series, Game 1 needs to serve as an important reminder about how games play out. It’s not about matchups on paper (only) or about heart or will, it’s about what you can survive and what you cannot. The Warriors can survive foul trouble and a huge Harden game and an off night from Stephen Curry and some great execution. The Rockets can’t survive any mistakes. They have to play brilliantly, or else they will lose.
That’s how high the bar is when playing the Durant-era Warriors.
Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals is Wednesday at Toyota Center in Houston. The Houston Rockets, again, opened as a 2-point favorite.