The 2015 Western Conference finals will be a battle between the No.1 seed Golden State Warriors and second seed Houston Rockets for a berth in the NBA Finals in June. The Rockets reached the conference finals for the first time in 18 years. Their path has been nothing short of memorable, overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round to win the last three games with double-digits.
The Warriors disposed of the New Orleans Pelicans 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs, but found themselves in a hole after going down 2-1 against the gritty Memphis Grizzlies in the next round. They found their groove at the right time, however, and won the next three games convincingly to finish off the series 4-2. For the Warriors, the trip to the conference finals is their first since 1976.
The Golden State Warriors will be heavy favorites in this series and it is hard to find a reason why not. During the regular season, the Warriors swept the Rockets 4-0, winning each game by an average of 15 points. Nevertheless, the Rockets will start the series with a lot of confidence and all the pressure will be on the Warriors to win.
The storyline of this series will be that of the MVP, Stephen Curry, versus the runner-up in James Harden. Harden felt that he was the more important player for his team, especially if all the injuries (Howard, Beverly) had been taken into account. He will have the chance to show he was the real MVP if he can somehow take the Rockets past this Warriors team during the next two weeks.
Both Houston and Golden State continue to live from behind the arc, after shooting more than one-third of their field goals from three (33.8% and 36.5% respectively). The Warriors have been shooting it at a slightly higher rate, but have been more efficient as well, making 38.5% of their long balls. For the Rockets, it will be Harden, Ariza and veteran Jason ‘The Jet’ Terry who will need special attention from the Warriors’ defenders; however, none of them have been shooting the three particularly well, and with the Warriors they play against the team with the best 3-point defense in the playoffs (holding their opponents to only 29.4% shooting from behind the arc).
The Warriors, on the other hand, have the two deadliest shooters in the League in their ranks with Thompson and Curry, both shooting better than 41%. Klay Thompson has been extremely efficient, shooting 51% from behind the line in a catch and shoot situation. If the Rockets choose to use Ariza instead of Terry to defend Curry, Thompson will have a favorable match-up. Harden will have a hard time following him around screen, and if Thompson has the undersized Terry on him, he will be able to shoot over him or punish him in the post.
In the middle, both Howard and Andrew Bogut have been policing the paint with dominance, with Bogut holding the edge. With the 7-foot Australian on the floor, the Warriors’ opponents have been shooting only 36.3% around the rim. His presence will discourage Harden to attack the paint, where Bogut will be found all series, as Houston doesn’t have a stretch five that will lure him away from the basket. His battle against Howard, who has been the best rebounder of the playoffs so far, especially on the defensive glass, will be crucial to limit Houston’s second-chance opportunities.
It will be a tough series for the Rockets, as they find themselves matched up against a team that has a similar up-and-down, three-point loving style of play, but a team that has perfected it. It seems that everything the Rockets are good at, the Warriors will be able to match – and better. A shoot-out is expected between the two teams that attempted more threes in the regular season than any other team in the history of the league. Game 1 goes down on Wednesday, 11AM AEST.