The reigning Finals MVP left a close Game 5 with plenty of time to go in the second half. Despite that, the Rockets dropped a rare opportunity to topple the Warriors at Oracle thanks to a spirited battle by the rest of Golden State’s All-Stars and supporting cast.
Game 6 will be different, though - for both sides. Houston will have plenty of time to prepare their roster and scheme for a Durant-less Warriors. The Warriors will have to pick up their offense and defense without their best player.
Here are some things to expect for Game 6.
No Depth, Rest, and More Steph
The Warriors’ approach to Game 6 (as far as minutes go) will be something interesting to follow. On one hand, you don’t want to kill your stars with playing 45-48 minutes when you still might have to play a Game 7. If you can win without forcing anything, you’ll take it. Plus, you always run the risk of your player repeating insane minutes the next game if you happen to lose.
On the other hand, you don’t want to extend a series longer than possible. Closing out a series is the hardest thing you can do in basketball. It’s not something you want to take lightly.
High volume is something the Rockets will have to exploit this game and possibly in Game 7. Not that Houston is managing minutes any better, but Golden State will for sure (at least, hopefully) have to work harder to get a win.
The Warriors will have to replace a team-high 42 minutes of playing time from Durant. Realistically, what more can you ask for from Curry, Green, and Thompson with all playing at least 40 minutes a game? Kevon Looney has been a formidable backup, but it’s impossible to ask that much from a guy averaging only 17.8 minutes (leader off the bench) this series. And even if they do stagger his minutes with Draymond Green playing center and Shaun Livingston relieving one of the wings, there’s still a lot of scoring to be accounted for.
This is going to have to be Stephen Curry’s game.
It’s only right and sensible that Curry will play hero ball for the Warriors. With a Game 7 in his back pocket, it should be expected that he and his fellow Splash Bro, Klay Thompson (but mostly Steph), will let it fly. Curry will have to overcome some struggles first. The two-time MVP is scoring only 22 points a game this series on an uncharacteristic 39.4-percent shooting from the field and 26.3-percent shooting from three.
Here’s the amazing thing about this scenario, though: there’s no pressure. If you jack up 40 shots and miss them all, you’re just trying to bury a healthy team to avoid a Game 7. If you jack up 40 and make them all, you’re the golden boy we always knew you were.
Am I saying he’s invincible here? Yes, I am. Expect it to be a Curry shootout.
So badly did I want to make this mostly about Clint Capela, but I just don’t think he’s shown we should have any confidence for an immediate turnaround. That being said, he should be able to make himself felt in this game.
The Warriors just lost their center and best rim protector. With Looney, Draymond and possibly even Andrew Bogut going to play the center minutes, the Rockets should look to go back to their bread and butter of pick-and-rolls and screen actions with Harden and Capela. Looney and Bogut aren’t quick enough laterally to stick with Harden on a PnR or to step up and cut off his floater.
Draymond, while fantastic down low, should be easier to exploit up top. Still, all this success depends on how confident Capela can be rolling to the basket and how much he doesn’t allow Draymond to beat him for position down low.
Houston will also have a much easier time exploiting switches like they did last year, as Golden State loses one of their top one-on-one defenders. Sub out Durant for Looney, and the Rockets now have two matchups to exploit with Curry and Looney on defense. On top of that, they’re also removing any shot blocking that the Warriors would have had with Looney (or Bogut) hopefully neutralized in the iso or out on the wing.
Here’s a good thread detailing these adjustments.
Going to thread on Houston-Golden State Game 5 -- mainly with a focus on adjustments and carryovers for Game 6 (and beyond)... pic.twitter.com/za6HaQHkPa— Mike Zavagno (@MZavagno11) May 9, 2019
Maybe even more important than Houston’s switches on offense, they’ll have an easier time on defense as well. Instead of asking your best defender in P.J. Tucker to stay in front of Durant and hope to slow him down, Tucker will actually have an opportunity to lock up one of Golden State’s other stars; preferably Klay Thompson. If Houston wants to force Steph and only Steph to beat them, that game is very possible to accomplish.
The length and versatility of the Hampton 5 hindered Houston greatly on both sides of the ball. Without Durant, the lineup loses its integrity.
The Mental Game
Being on the elimination side of Game 6 is weird. It’s win or go home, but only for you, and not for the other team. The Warriors might be weakened, but they’re not desperate. They’re still playing with a core group of guys who have all won 73 games in a season and three championships. Oh, and they know that even if things do go wrong, they’re guaranteed another game at home.
Houston has to look to attack early and bury Golden State as quickly as possible. They’ll be playing loose already, and at least forcing them to play from behind will take away some comfort. The Rockets also have to be prepared to take a hit in the mouth at some point in the game. Curry and Thompson aren’t going to go down quietly, and they’ll heat up like they’ve never struggled a day before in their lives.
Most importantly, the Rockets can’t play like a team that is going lose an entire a season by every bad play. If there is another round, this is a time to get Capela’s confidence back and establish the game that made you most successful. Houston has to take it play-by-play and not get caught up in trying to match the style of a team of flamethrowers with nothing to lose. This will especially ring true if Houston returns to Golden State for Game 7.
Mental toughness is key in an elimination game. Houston has to suffer at least two more if they want to make it to the next round.