1) Kevin Durant is out. Kevin Durant has been the Warriors best and most reliable player, and Warriors have won three games, but three very close games. In addition, this is one of the thinnest Warriors teams we’ve seen. As such, almost everyone is predicting the Warriors will lose to the Rockets. However, while it’s impossible to be certain in a one game scenario, especially among teams as evenly matched as these, I’ll go with the Warriors to win.
2) Why the Warriors to win? While all the Warriors play well when both Stephen Curry and Durant share the floor, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala are simply much better playing off of Steph Curry on his own than they are playing off of Durant, and at levels of efficiency that are highly meaningful to offensive success and thus also to the success of the defense, seeing as how offense and defense in basketball are inextricable and interlinked.
3) In addition, we may see the return of Klay and Dray offense that once upon a time decimated both the Rockets and the Warriors in the 2015-16 playoffs after Curry got injured.
These three games were without Curry, or mostly without Curry, and the Warriors decimated the Rockets, who were simply not prepared for a Klay-Dray off motion rhythm offense. Then they did the same to the Trail Blazers, who were prepared for it. In these games, the Warriors were mostly running at 117 points per 100 possessions or better in terms of efficiency. There was basically no drop off, and the offense was almost entirely based around getting Klay jump shots, in a way we haven’t seen in the playoffs since Reggie Miller was at his peak in Indiana.
4) The fourth reason — though I’m skeptical given Jordan Bell hasn’t played great as a sophomore and because it could be seen as at least a little risky with what we know about space and how Jordan Bell has played this year when poorly paired with his teammates — is that we could see the return of Bell in lineups that absolutely kill. We only saw these lineups in limited amounts last year, but Bell’s four best pairings on the team were with Curry, Green, Iguodala and Thompson. And these pairings absolutely killed.
What’s more is that the four man units comprised of these players and Bell were awesome, though they only played as a fivesome for ten minutes (+43 net rating).
Is Houston perhaps uniquely suited to stop a Draymond Green-Jordan Bell frontcourt? Perhaps. Tucker and Capela aren’t ordinary frontcourt players, and that’s hardly the only solution. But Bell presents unique problems of his own for the opponent, especially when paired with enough playmaking. (Note that the Iguodala and Green pairings are better per minute by a lot than the Bell and Thompson pairing.)
Maybe that was one season magic. Bell and Green really weren’t very good in 60 minutes paired together this year (-18), but of course much of that came with Durant, and all three players like to occupy the same spaces of the court to succeed as scorers. That’s likely the main reason Bell played worse with Durant than the other four players last year.
At the very least it’s possible that Durant’s absence, which eliminates mid-post isolation possessions from the vernacular, opens the game up for Golden State, if not for Bell then for someone else. At the very least, we have to consider that such possessions come with an opportunity cost and that replacing these possessions with Curry-run possessions and Klay-Dray is not necessarily a negative. Bell, at least if the team can find a way to place him in productive offensive units, may be the way the team loses the least on defense, an area of the game in which there is no arguable opportunity cost. There Durant is great.
5) Of course, Durant is great on offense as well. He’s one of the most devastating scorers we’ve ever seen and a quite capable passer. The only place his game lacks is in the syncing of his individual pace and rhythm of play to that of the team. And it’s there that Curry, Green, Iguodala and Thompson have a particular genius, one that allows their individual genius to mesh into that of a team, one that allows each to be the best version of themselves. Time will tell if we see those best versions tonight.