The semifinal round of the Western Conference playoffs opened up last night with the Houston Rockets blowing out the San Antonio Spurs 126-99 to take a 1-0 series lead. The Rockets were on fire from deep as they hit 44 percent (22/50) of their shots from beyond the three point line. As unbelievable as the shooting was for the Rockets, it was the defense that really enabled them to jump out to a commanding lead and coast to the victory.
“The impressive thing about this one was the defense. They brought it on that end and they hounded San Antonio,” said CBS Sports basketball writer Matt Moore on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence show. “They got them back on their heels and the Spurs really wobbled. LaMarcus Aldridge was a mess, Trevor Ariza did great work on Kawhi Leonard. The Rockets dictated all the match-ups that they should win, and then, they took the match-ups that the Spurs should win and they flipped those on their head as well. That’s how you get a blowout.”
Meanwhile, the West’s other semifinal series gets underway on Tuesday night when the top seeded Warriors welcome the Utah Jazz to Oracle Arena. Yesterday, the Warriors may have given the Jazz some bulletin-board material when comments surfaced that Golden State wanted the Clippers to win the first round series against Utah because the nightlife is better in L.A. That’s not usually something you hear from a team during the regular season let alone come playoff time.
“The Warriors are feeling themselves just a little bit,” said Moore. “This team is just–they know how good they are and they’re kind of above it and they’ve always kind of stretched the boundaries. They love stretching the boundaries of how far can you take not being humble? How far can you push it without getting burnt? They got burned last year by the Cavs, but on one level you’re like we’re just describing our situation. We’d rather play in Los Angeles than in Utah. But, on the other hand, you know you’re going to spark controversy. This team does love to get people riled up in a way that we haven’t had a powerhouse team do in quite a while.
Now, as entertaining as the Warriors comments were, the series will play out on the court. When it comes to the match-up, do the Jazz have what it takes to slay Goliath?
“They’ve got the pieces, the question is whether or not they’re ready for this moment,” said Moore. “I do video breakdowns on pick and rolls, I look at the advanced metrics, the on/off court numbers and all of these things, rebound rate, PER, and sometimes it’s about are you ready for this moment? Are you really ready to walk into Oracle and take out the Warriors? Are you ready to get back in transition and pick up Steph Curry at half court, and make sure somebody picks up Kevin Durant slashing to the basket, and someone find Klay Thompson spotting up on the perimeter? Are you going to be able to attack the boards? All of these things have to happen and that’s Utah’s problem.
“The other issue is that Utah is kind of bringing–they’re bringing rocks to a heavy artillery match, and that’s a problem. They’re going to have to get phenomenal shooting and big, explosive, offensive performances from an offense that we haven’t really seen that from. They’ve got good shooters in spots, they’ve got good offensive players, but they need an explosive offensive series to keep up with the Warriors who are happy to get into a defensive battle with you. I liken it to, it’s like a bull in a rodeo shoot that you’re trying to wrestle. Eventually, the Warriors are going to break loose and kick you out of there. That’s when you’re in trouble when they start hitting threes. That’s a big key. Is Utah ready for the moment? And do they have enough firepower to keep up?