The Warriors took Game 2 of their second-round series with the Houston Rockets, 115–109. Golden State didn’t play especially well, and the Rockets were able to hang around and give the impression of putting up a fight, but only in the way that a small child can be said to put up a fight while you put your hand on their forehead and let them swing at the air as you hold them at arm’s length.
Some small part of this had to do with James Harden getting his eyeballs raked in the first quarter and spending the middle quarters seeming tentative and uncomfortable as a result. But the larger part of it was Golden State’s various shot-makers just having a response for everything, and then Steve Kerr unleashing the hilariously, violently effective Hampton Five lineup in key moments to just cruise away from the Rockets, like the Road Runner saying “meep meep” and vanishing over the horizon in a cloud of dust.
That lineup—Steph Curry-Klay Thompson-Andre Iguodala-Kevin Durant-Draymond Green—played 178 minutes together in the regular season and compiled a pristine plus-29.1 net rating, on ridiculous, unfair 70 percent true shooting. Kerr hasn’t been screwing around in this series, scrapping any potential Kevon Looney or Andrew Bogut options in the starting lineup and going straight to the Death Lineup at the opening tip. In Game 1, the lineup played 24 minutes and amassed an ungodly 143.1 offensive rating. Finding some way to keep those minutes close will be the only way for the Rockets to have any chance of advancing. They made progress in Game 2, but not nearly enough.
The definitive Death Lineup run Tuesday came in the fourth quarter, when the Rockets pulled to within six points with about eight minutes left in the game. Kerr chose that moment to replace Shaun Livingston with Andre Iguodala and Kevon Looney with Draymond Green. Harden buried a three to bring the Rockets within a possession, and then the Warriors ripped off a quick dunk-heavy 10–0 run to create some breathing room. The game never got closer than two possessions again. When it mattered, when the game got remotely tight, the Warriors dialed up their ball and player movement and did stuff like this:
Golden State’s Hampton Five lineup put up another absurd 141.4 offensive rating in 13 second-half minutes, which was as much juice as they needed to scamper away from the Rockets. It’s hard to imagine anyone beating the Warriors four times in seven games when their best lineup functions like a shiny red “WIN” button, and has the ability to play genuinely excellent NBA players—looking at you, Clint Capela—all the way off the floor.
It’s starting to feel like the book on this season might already be written. Houston seemed by far to be the Western Conference team best suited to disrupting Golden State’s march to a third consecutive championship, but as close as the first two games of this series have been on the scoreboard, the Warriors haven’t yet seemed especially troubled. Maybe things will be different in Houston? Or maybe the best the Rockets will manage is a serious enough challenge to get the Warriors to stop playing with their food and compete like they mean it for more than five minutes at a time.
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