Rockets over Warriors in 6
THE reigning National Basketball Association titlist Golden State Warriors are on the road to open a best-of-seven duel for the first time in 15 playoff series when they travel to Houston today, Tuesday (Manila time), to face the postseason’s top-seeded Rockets in Game One of the West final series at the Toyota Center.
That’s because Houston owns the home-court advantage after registering the NBA’s winningest percentage during the regular wars with an all-time franchise-best 65-17 record.
Golden State, on the other hand, finished with the second-best mark in the West at 58-24, trailing Houston and Toronto (59-23), which topped the East but was swept by Cleveland, 4-0, in the conference semifinal for the second year in a row that eventually cost Dwane Casey his head coaching job following seven seasons with the Raptors just days after being selected by his peers (the 30-member NBA mentoring fraternity) as NBA Coach of the Year.
During their head-to-head regular season series, the Rockets also won two of three games from the Dubs.
Despite home-court disadvantage and everything else (so what if the Rockets also have a much-vaunted explosive backcourt duo in the league’s top Most Valuable Player candidate and No. 1 leading scorer James Harden and rejuvenated playmaker de luxe Chris Paul who is appearing in his first-ever conference finals action), most prognosticators – including the Las Vegas oddsmakers – still believe Golden State has enough firepower to beat Houston in six games and advance to the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive year.
As for this aging Hoopster, I will go against the grain and pick the Rockets to send the Warriors home in six games. Both teams play a fast-paced, small-ball offense and put a premium on ball movement, spacing and three-point shooting. They epitomize what modern-day basketball is with position-less players leading the way and the traditional post-up big men taking a backseat.
Golden State (110.3 ppg) and Houston (109.5 ppg) ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the NBA in scoring. Expect also a lot of three-pointers to be hoisted by Golden State and Houston in the much-anticipated West finals. But don’t tell that to the 6-foot, 33-year-old Paul, whom the Rockets acquired last summer in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers to team up with another ball-dominant star in Harden.
Unlike Harden, who is taking 9.6 attempts from triple land in the current playoffs, Paul does not rely much on shots from beyond the arc (6.1 attempts per game, third only to Harden and Eric Gordon’s 7.0 a game) but more on mid-range jumpers that he says are “layups” for him.
Four players are averaging in twin-digit scores during the playoffs for Warriors (8-2 record) – Kevin Durant (28.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 5.0 apg), Stephen Curry (24.5 ppg in four games), Klay Thompson (21.2 ppg) and Draymond Green (13.1 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 9.0 apg, 1.9 spg, 1.3 bpg – he averaged a triple-double in the five-game, second-round series win against the New Orleans Pelicans).
The Rockets (8-2) also have four double-figure scorers in the postseason. They are Harden (28.5 ppg, 7.4 apg, 5.0 rpg, 2.3 spg), Paul (21.8 ppg, 6.4 apg, 5.5 rpg), Swiss-born center Clint Capela (14.4 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 2.8 bpg) and Gordon (12.9 ppg).
Game Two of the West final series will be held on Thursday, May 17 (MT), also at the Toyota Center.
Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics grabbed a 1-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 108-83 rout in East final series opener at the TD Garden, where the Green is still unblemished at 8-0.
The Celtics got off to a quick start, enjoying a 61-35 advantage at the break, and were never seriously threatened in the final half. The Hub City squad, which shot .512 (43-84 FGA) from the field (including 11-of-30 from three-point range), was led by Jaylen Brown, who chalked up 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Two other Celts tallied 20 or more points. Marcus Morris, who prior to the series claimed he’s one of the best in the NBA at making things tough for LeBron James, did make life hard for the King in the opener while also racking up 21 points (7-12 FGA) and 10 boards. Al Horford (8-10 FGA) collected 20 points (8-10 FGA) and dished off six assists.
Rookie forward Jayson Tatum scored just 16 markers (6-11 FGA) as his streak of seven consecutive 20-point playoff games – after surpassing Larry Bird’s rookie record of four straight with the Celtics and eclipsing the now-retired Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant as the youngest player in league annals with such a scoring streak in the postseason en route to tying the second-longest such streak by a first-year player in NBA history – came to an abrupt halt. The 6-foot-8, 20-year-old product of Duke University, however, posted the highest plus-minus mark among the Celtics with plus 27 in 37 minutes.
Hounded by Morris throughout the game, James struggled offensively and, for the first time in the current playoffs, James failed to pace Cleveland (8-4) in scoring, making just 15 points on 5-for-16 field goal shooting along with nine assists and seven rebounds. The Cavs’ “head of the snake” was a venomous minus 32 – the worst on his team – in 36 minutes.
Kevin Love topscored for the Wine City outfit with 17 points on a 5-for-14 field clip and plucked down eight boards, second to reserve center Tristan Thompson’s 11.
Cleveland shot a frigid .360 (31-for-86) from the field, including .154 (4-for-26) from beyond the arc, and lost the rebounding (48-40) and assist 27-18) races.
Game Two of the East finals will be hosted by Boston once again on Wednesday, May 16 (Manila time).
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