Moore: Steph Curry Remains the Warriors’ Most Important Player, and the Rockets Know It

Moore: Steph Curry Remains the Warriors’ Most Important Player, and the Rockets Know It article feature image
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Photo credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Stephen Curry

  • Matt Moore evaluates the Rockets-Warriors series as it stands before Game 4, discussing Steph Curry's slump, Kevin Durant's isolation love and the Rockets defense.
  • He also hits on the betting market for tonight's affair, including an over/under pick and player props to note.

Well… Houston did what it had to do, or at least half of it. The Rockets took Game 3 vs. the Warriors, protecting homecourt and fending off the dreaded insurmountable-unless-you’re-LeBron situation where the Warriors have three wins against you.

Let’s take a look at where both teams are headed into Game 4…

Golden State Warriors

Kevin Durant’s been awesome. Incredible. Unbelievable. The Rockets will also live with it.

Last year, Durant averaged 10.4 isolation possessions per game against the Rockets. Compare that to the Clippers first-round series where it felt like he was going ISO a lot, and that was only 3.8. This series? 11.0. That’s an insane number of ISOs per game for any non-Rockets team, much less the Warriors!

This is the whole thing: The Warriors lean into what the Rockets want them to do because… well, I don’t really know why. You can say “the switch makes other things difficult,” but they still manage to do it at times. The ball movement stuff still works.

Now, the KD stuff works, too. The Warriors have a 113.7 Offensive Rating with Durant on the floor in this series, which is really good. He’s averaging 36.7 points per game on 44-53-83 splits along with 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

Here’s what’s fascinating: With Durant on the floor, the offense per 100 possessions is 0.1 points worse than it is with him on the bench, and the Warriors have outscored the Rockets by only 0.8 points per 100 possessions.

With Steph Curry, who has struggled mightily in this series, the offense is 28.7 points/100 better when he’s on the floor. Without Curry, they’re scoring 91 points per 100 possessions, which is catastrophic. The Warriors are +15.1 per 100 possessions in Net Rating with Curry on the floor vs. when he’s on the bench.

And the Rockets know it. Look at how they’re defending Curry:

Here he gets a shot off, but they’re very clearly way more worried about Curry than the slip:

The Warriors have defined their era by unselfishness and brilliant play, and yet in the fourth quarter of this game (which they won, by the way) they had just four total passes in their first seven possessions:

Still, they scored 13 points on those 17 possessions. But, except for one Andre Iguodala 3, they were all just KD-walking-up-into-a-shot ISOs. And eventually, that strategy runs out:

Durant was 5-of-7 in the fourth quarter until the final three minutes. From the 3:00 mark of the fourth through overtime, Durant was 1-of-4 with three free throws for five points. Curry, meanwhile, who had one of the worst games of his career, was 0-for-4 in that stretch.

When Curry’s bad, the Warriors lose, even if Durant is great. And part of what you see is Durant just cooking the Rockets (and the Rockets being fine with it), and then after everyone has gone cold, Durant starting to step back from the offense.

Curry’s problems were obvious. He missed layups. He was blocked by the rim. It was a disastrous game. But once again, the Rockets have made the Warriors into KD and the KDettes. If Golden State continues to go this route, it’s going to work out more and more in Houston’s favor.

KD can carry them across thousands of miles, but not sea to shining sea. And as long as that’s the trend, things will slip more towards Houston.


Houston Rockets

The role players for Houston are starting to show up, which could be big. Austin Rivers is a +15 in Net Rating in this series, and his 102.8 Defensive Rating is frankly incredible. He has hung with Curry really well, just staying attached to him. He missed Game 1 — you know, the one Houston could have stolen on the road? And his presence is shaping this series in small ways.

Iman Shumpert is the “let’s ignore him completely and see what happens” guy in the Warriors’ minds. And while the Warriors loaded up to try and stop Harden, who got back on track (bad eye and all) in Game 3, Shumpert hit three huge 3-pointers, including this one. He’s just roaming free like buffalo on the plain here:

In a series like this, the tight little margins matter. That’s where the Warriors usually win. They’re getting a huge series from Iguodala. But now Houston’s depth is starting to show up, and for a Warriors team that really is just six guys at this point, that’s massive in how the game is turning.


Game 4 Angle: Under 220.5

I’ve covered the Warriors’ defensive bounceback in detail in previous columns.

That trend held in the Clippers series as well. So expect a big defensive bounceback from Golden State after finally losing. However, the Rockets defense is also working better and better, and if KD is just ‘great’ and not ‘a human supernova,’ then the under is going to pop.

This series last year was a defensive grind, and we’re slowly heading there. The Warriors defense has been mediocre overall this year and bad in the playoffs, but I think both teams put in a grind given how the matchups are going. Game 4 is when teams have figured each other out and it’s about matchups.


Game 4 Player Props

Durant over 5.5 rebounds: The Warriors have been killed on the offensive glass in this series, and they know it’s an issue. They’ll switch Durant onto P.J. Tucker or Clint Capela more and get him low, and he’ll pick up boards. Our system has him pegged for 8.8 tonight.

Curry under 5 assists: Our system has him at 4.0. He’s not 1) getting the ball enough and 2) when he is, he’s getting blitzed and face-guarded. And when he does get the ball out, it’s usually the second mechanism where they get a score. (Screener slips, Curry passes to screener, screener passes to corner, Curry gets the secondary assist.)

Eric Gordon under 17.5 points: Gordon’s been lights out in this series. He’s in single coverage at all times, and he’s cooked Durant and Klay Thompson in this series. Per NBA.com’s admittedly wonky matchup data, Gordon is 6-of-10 vs. Durant and 7-of-12 vs. Thompson. He’s just so confident right now. However, Iguodala has done great on him. So expect more Durant on Harden and Iguodala covering Gordon more with a higher defensive performance.