How The Warriors Clinched The West

The Golden State Warriors are going to the NBA Finals for the first time since their back-to-back championship years of 1974-75. A 104-90 win over the Houston Rockets last night sewed up the Western Conference Finals in five games. Here’s a look at how the Warriors did it…

*The stars were close to a wash with Steph Curry and James Harden each playing well. Curry knocked down 31 ppg for Golden State, while Harden went for 28 points/8 rebounds/6 assists per game.

But Curry, with six assists of his own per game, was still a little bit better. And the biggest difference between the two is one that doesn’t show up in the per-game averages. Harden was terrible in Game 3, the opportunity the Rockets had to make it a series again on their home floor, and he also mishandled the last possession of Game 2 when his team could have stolen one on the road.

This isn’t written as a “Bash James Harden” line, because he’s not the reason his team lost this series. But he was a little bit behind his star counterpart, just as he finished in the MVP voting.

*The real difference between the two teams was rebounding. Remember those unenlightened observers who said Golden State couldn’t win it all because they were a pure jump-shooting team? I was one of them, and am feeling foolish.

As a team, Golden State outrebounded a team with Dwight Howard in the middle by a 49-42 margin per game. And this is with Dwight getting 14 boards a night. But the Warriors countered with Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut who combined to average 21.

Houston did not get sufficient rebounding from Josh Smith. He tends to be an inside-out power forward anyway, but if the Rockets are going to take the next step, he needs to put more emphasis on the “inside.” Either that, or the team needs to get a big body like Green, who understands his role is to hit the boards.

*Golden State didn’t go crazy from the three-point line, but they were respectable. They hit 37 percent, which is a good enough percentage, and over the course of the five games the Warriors hit 58 shots behind the arc. ESPN’s Michael Wilbon has opined that 11 is a magic number for Golden State and they got just above that threshold each game.

An NBA postseason that’s been marked by injuries and a lot of series that have been disappointments for fans without direct rooting interests (including this one) now has what the league surely wanted, and it’s the league MVP in Curry going against its best player in LeBron James for the championship.

The NBA Finals begin a week from tonight, on June 4 in Oakland.