Fans have anticipated a Western Conference Finals match-up between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, two offensive juggernauts, all year.
It’s an interesting clash considering the Rockets utilize so much one-on-one scoring, which is something that the Warriors defend well.
Before this series, Golden State had only allowed 6.6 points per game on isolation plays during the postseason. Opponents averaged 0.86 points per possession on this play type, including the regular season, against the Warriors. This ranked No. 6 among all teams in the Western Conference.
The Rockets, meanwhile, entered this series scoring 14.4 points per game when they have matched up one-on-one against defenders in the playoffs. They scored 17.2 points per game on this play type during the regular season, which was nearly double the second-best team.
Before this game, they were averaging 1.11 PPP when running an isolation offense (including the regular season). This also ranked as the best in the NBA. Their backcourt of James Harden (1.20 PPP) and Chris Paul (1.11 PPP) rank No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the league among all players who have had at least 100 offensive possessions on this play type.
Houston was 14-of-22 (63.6 percent) on isolations during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, scoring 1.47 PPP with 38 total points. Harden scored 28 of those points against the Warriors, averaging 1.64 PPP. It was a drastic difference from how Golden State usually defends isolation plays.
But moving forward, it’s unlikely Harden will be able to replicate such a productive night. That could be bad news for Houston because, despite his efficient scoring, they were still unable to snatch a victory at home.
Golden State’s Klay Thompson is one of the best defenders for one-on-one situations in basketball. Opponents shot 17-of-55 (30.9 percent) on isolation plays when he defended them. This ranks No. 3 overall among those with at least 50 defensive possessions.
Kevon Looney has also defended well in one-on-one situations for the Warriors this season. Prior to this series, opponents averaged just 0.76 PPP on this play type against Looney, which ranked fifth overall among NBA forwards (minimum: 50 defensive possessions) since the start of the regular season. However, he struggled in Game 1 against the Rockets.
David West (0.78 PPP), Kevin Durant (0.81 PPP) and Draymond Green (0.85 PPP) each rank in the Top 15 guarding isos among all forwards who had at least 50 defensive opportunities in this play type.
But the biggest worry entering this series was Stephen Curry, who had allowed 1.06 PPP when matched up with his defender on one-on-one plays. Curry’s opponents shot 27-of-53 (50.9 percent) when they ran isolation plays, which ranks fourth-worst among guards who have had at least 50 defensive possessions on this play type.
While the Rockets were able to score with ease and Harden played really well, Curry was still effective on more plays than you’d think upon glancing at the stat line. If he can keep this up, the Warriors will likely have a clear path to the 2018 NBA Finals.