Without Kevin Durant, the Warriors will emphasize player and ball movement. The Rockets have to limit miscommunications on defense to keep Golden State in check.
With 2:11 left in the third quarter, Kevin Durant nailed a fadeaway jumper over Iman Shumpert, a shot that KD has perfected over his career. However, once Durant started to make his way back on defense, he felt pain his lower right leg as if someone had kicked him, but no one touched him.
That’s the classic story of an achilles tear, but fortunately, Durant seems to have a calf strain instead. That’s good news for Durant and the Warriors, but they’ll still have to face the Rockets without Durant for the remainder of the series.
For Houston, that means the way they play Golden State defensively will change. Durant is Golden State’s No. 1 option, and when he has it going, he can be a ball-stopper in an otherwise fluent Warriors offense. Steve Kerr often elects to have Durant play iso ball and go one-on-one in the mid-post, even though that is the opposite of Golden State’s typical offensive style.
After Durant left Wednesday’s game, the momentum seemed to sway Houston’s way, as it became clear that KD wasn’t coming back. However, the Warriors started to play Warriors basketball, swinging the ball from side to side, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in constant motion. Curry scored 14 points after Durant went down and the Warriors dropped 32 points in the 4th quarter, their highest scoring quarter of Game 5.
Without KD for the rest of the way, the Rockets will see even more ball and player movement from the Warriors in Game 6 and Game 7, if the Rockets protect their home floor on Friday. We’ll see a steady dose of Stephen Curry in the high pick-and-roll and we’ll see Draymond Green handle the ball more often in the post or on the perimeter, looking to pass to Curry and Thompson for open jump shots.
The Rockets switch on nearly all on-ball and off-ball screens. They have to limit miscommunications on defense and execute clean switches, or else Curry and Thompson will get too many open looks.
One advantage for Houston’s defense is that Golden State doesn’t have many knock down shooters outside of Curry and Thompson. Quinn Cook is a great outside shooter, but he has played a grand total of 18 seconds in this series and likely won’t see much playing time, even with Durant sidelined with an injury. Jonas Jerebko is also a floor spacer, but his poor perimeter defense will probably force Kerr to play him in short stretches.
Otherwise, the Rockets will be happy to let Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Alfonzo Mckinnie fire away from downtown. Houston can play Thompson and Curry aggressively on the perimeter and funnel the ball to Golden State’s other guys.
If the Warriors beat the Rockets with Green and Iguodala nailing outside shots left and right, then Houston will just have to tip their cap the Warriors. You can’t take away everything, but with Durant out, the Warriors just don’t have the offensive fire power that has made them so impossible to defend over the last few seasons.