The Highlights

  • Believe it nor not, but this series could come down to Nick Young and Gerald Green
  • We rarely get series where the biggest stars for both teams — James Harden and Steph Curry — (with respect to Kevin Durant) guard one another
  • Whoever wins Game 5 probably wins the series

HOUSTON — Well, now. We’ve got a series.

The Rockets, facing a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter, were sunk. Toast. Over. You don’t come back from two Curry games in a series, and Steph Curry had put his shimmy stamp on Game 4 in definitive fashion in the third quarter. The Warriors hit their third-quarter haymaker of doom, and that was that. Nice try, Houston: better luck whenever the Warriors stop Warrriors-ing.

Not so fast.

Instead, the Warriors collapsed in the fourth quarter, and the Rockets took out their support structures with great defense and timely buckets. They out-toughed the Warriors, out-physical’d the Warriors, outworked the Warriors, and now the series is 2-2. Even if Golden State runs roughshod in Games 5 and 6 with Andre Iguodala likely back and the Warriors no longer complacent, this is a series. Houston has a legit shot to take this series, which makes it all the more fun to watch, to analyze, and yes, to put action on.

Here are the angles.

THE GERALD GREEN VS. NICK YOUNG SURVIVAL CHICKEN DANCE

These two teams are trying to steal as many minutes as they can with Green or Young on the floor. Young had gotten the better of those minutes heading into Game 4, then everything flipped. Part of why it had leaned toward Young is that Young isn’t as vital. For the Rockets, every lost possession feels harrowing, like a step closer to the cliff. For Golden State, it’s more about missed opportunities.

Green helped flip Game 4 in a big way, in part because of his defense in the fourth quarter, which made me ironically make this face:

Watch him recover on Steph Curry to block the snot out of him here:

 

It’s these little things that can tilt a series. Green was a negative in plus-minus in Games 1 and 3, which, you know, the Rockets lost. He was a positive, surprise, in the two Rockets wins. Young was a net zero in the Game 2 loss for the Warriors, a plus-20 in Game 3, and a minus-14 in 13 minutes of Game 4.

If it sounds crazy that this series could come down to these two, think of it this way. It’s not that these two dictate terms; all the other great players clearly do. But it’s about who can get away with playing these seventh men for short stretches and not get run off the floor.

HARDEN VS. CURRY

Both teams have hunted the other team’s best guard mercilessly. For the Rockets, it’s a matter of practicality: Curry isn’t a bad defender, but he’s a vulnerable defender and the worst one on a team that has so much length and defensive ability all over. There is an added benefit to wearing Curry out of energy this way. For the Warriors, it’s simpler: James Harden is a liability and they want to wear him down.

When these two are guarded by each other is a lot of the series, and hilariously, they’ve almost played to a draw. According to NBA.com’s matchup data (which can be a little wonky, so take it with a grain of salt):

Harden vs. Curry: Rockets Offensive Rating of 107.5 (excellent), Harden shooting 50% from the field with 34 points on 21 shots

Curry vs. Harden: Warriors Offensive Rating of 122.0 (amazing), Curry shooting 50% from the field with 20 points on 18 shots

So, basically, Harden has defended Curry better, but the Warriors have scored much better than Houston on those possessions. Harden outright shut down Curry several times in that now-infamous Game 4 fourth quarter:

 

Curry seems hell-bent on getting to the 3 sometimes, and if you stick with him, yikes:

 

We rarely get series where the biggest stars for both teams (with respect to Kevin Durant) guard one another. That’s not only happening in this series, but it’s deciding a lot.

THE CASE FOR ROCKETS (+1)

Houston’s at home, and the last time we saw the Rockets at home, the floodgates opened for their shooters. With how tired the Warriors are; if P.J. Tucker and especially Eric Gordon are in the zone, that can tilt this thing pretty wildly.

Gordon struggled overall in the Bay, shooting 3-of-16 from deep, including 1-of-8 in Game 4. His one shot? Pretty important:

 

By the way, when I watched this, I yelled out loud at the Oracle media center, “The one time they don’t switch! The one time!”

But if Gordon is aggressive and his shot actually falls, as it often does for role players at home, that alone would tilt this toward Houston. The Rockets battled hard to get that win in Game 4. Does the momentum boost them? Does Harden have a massive game after a quiet Game 4? It’s tough.

Usually, Game 5 is when the adjustments have all been made and it’s time for execution. That leans toward the Rockets, because they’re the sharper team throughout this series, but one of the keys is…

THE CASE FOR WARRIORS (-1)

The Warriors respond to losses. They have absolutely smacked teams in these playoffs when they’ve lost. Their focus and energy amps up and there’s still a feeling (reflected in the series line) that Golden State, at full engagement, is a beast that can’t be reckoned with.

The Warriors weren’t just bad in that fourth quarter; Durant, historically great shooter, did this:

 

So yes, they were tired, but truly great players played awfully, and, while that can happen in a game, will it happen again in two out of three? Aren’t the Warriors still the better team?

THE CASE FOR UNDER 219.5

Both teams were gassed. The only person after Game 4 to deny that fatigue was a factor was Draymond Green. The rest acknowledged this is a battle of attrition. Both teams are down to tight rotations, especially with Golden State’s injuries. The under is 3-1 in this series so far, thanks to exhaustion and the iso-heavy style.

Golden State wants to push the pace in Game 5, which is more difficult on the road. If the Rockets knock down shots, they can get back on defense to slow transition, and then they’ll walk the ball up again.

The Rockets want to make this a battle of attrition; the Warriors want to shoot the gap. That’s going to impact that over/under a lot.

THE CASE FOR OVER 219.5

 When teams get tired, as both teams are, sometimes that actually costs them on the defensive end. We see it a lot in back-to-backs in the regular season. If the Warriors’ and Rockets’ defensive effort slips, the points are going to come because both teams are so good offensively.

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Whoever wins Game 5 probably wins the series. That’s simple, based on the history of the sport, but it’s also specific to this series. The Rockets winning this game sets them up and may put a mentally exhausted Warriors team over the edge; plus home teams in Game 7s are historically good. If the Warriors steal Game 5, that might deflate Houston after Golden State’s Game 4 loss enough to give Steve Kerr’s club the energy needed to slam the door in Game 6. Keep that in mind as the series prices evolve no matter what coming off this game.

Credit:

Pictured; Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, and Draymond Green. Photo credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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