Few can match the display of offensive talent on both squads, with players like James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson all capable of knocking down threes or driving to the rim.
Instead, this highly anticipated matchup turned into a surprisingly sloppy and stilted affair, with both offenses unable (or unwilling) to run set plays for much of the night. It wasn't until the final minute that we saw true scoring brilliance, with Harden and Curry trading clutch baskets to send the game into overtime.
The Warriors would prevail, 102-99, in the extra period. But the game didn't need to go that far, if only they had played some sensible offense earlier in the game.
The Warriors won this game with their defense. That's all well and good, but eventually the offense is going to have to catch up.
Too Careless, Too Selfish
The Warriors had a few chances to put this game away in the second half. Both Dwight Howard and James Harden were saddled with foul trouble, and Golden State had pushed the lead to 10 early in the third quarter on a three from Curry. Everything was going their way.
And then, suddenly, it wasn't. Suddenly, the Warriors could barely get off a shot.
Yes, point guard Patrick Beverley was a nuisance on defense, hounding the opposing ball-handler all the way down the court. He was defending with such an insatiable rage that he nearly fought with a Warriors fan after fouling out. But the Rockets were missing Howard for much of the second half and weren't defending particularly well as a team.
Instead, most of the Warriors' offensive wounds were self-inflicted. They didn't fall prey to their usual bugaboo, turnovers, because they simply stopped passing the ball.
Every possession was an isolation. Even the TNT announcers, Steve Kerr and former Warrior Chris Webber, accused each player of going for their own shots.
On the other end of the court, the Warriors played well, but soon found themselves overwhelmed by the individual brilliance of Harden, who started hitting shots from every distance and every angle.
The Warriors' offense continued to stagnate at the end of regulation, as Golden State continually kicked the ball into David Lee in the post, leading to an embarrassing possession where the much smaller Harden stripped Lee as he tried to back him down.
Curry's last-second brilliance bailed the Warriors' offense out of what would have been an embarrassing late-game meltdown.
In overtime, the best play came on the defensive end. Center Jermaine O'Neal, starting for the injured Andrew Bogut, stuffed Chandler Parsons as he closed in along the baseline. The block was so amazing that the 35-year-old just kind of stood there for a moment, admiring his handiwork.
After the game, Rockets coach Kevin McHale seemed more interested in giving credit to Curry for his clutch layup than the Warriors' defense, per ESPN TrueHoop's Jordan Ramirez:
But make no mistake: this win belongs to the Warriors' D. Houston was riding an eight-game winning streak, and Golden State virtually shut them down, with the exception of Harden.
These kinds of wins are becoming the norm in the Bay Area. The Warriors are ranked third in defensive efficiency and 12th in offensive efficiency. As strange as it may sound, the defense is keeping them in the playoffs at the moment.
How the Warriors Can Improve Their Offense
On Jan. 16, Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes wrote a comprehensive analysis of Warriors coach Mark Jackson's more disturbing flaws, one of which reared its ugly head late in Thursday's win:
The second problem for which Jackson is responsible is the Warriors' lack of offensive continuity beyond their initial actions. Sets need counters and secondary options. The Warriors don't seem to have many of those, though.
It's easy to understand Jackson's reliance on players as skilled as Curry and David Lee to manufacture points. But late in the game, when the first option isn't available, the offense has been stalling out.
Bingo. Jackson did indeed fall in love with running simple post plays for Lee down the stretch. Because of the lack of secondary options, Lee was forced into several difficult shots and one very costly turnover.
While Jackson isn't likely to change his overall strategy anytime soon, the Warriors' front office might have finally executed a deal to improve their stagnant offense when they acquired point guard Steve Blake from the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
Blake is not a superstar by any means, but he can help Golden State's offense in two very important ways. First, he can act as the primary ball-handler off the bench, improving the Warriors' woeful second-unit efficiency numbers.
And when he's not playing with the second unit, Blake can allow Curry to move off the ball on occasion, thus allowing the Warriors to run him off screens so that he doesn't have to create every shot for himself.
Golden State excelled at this in 2012-13, when Jarrett Jack was playing like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. The Warriors played Curry with Jack, their backup point guard, and the results were nearly the same as when Curry played with Thompson, the starting shooting guard.
|2012-13 Warriors backcourt (including playoffs)|
|MP||Net PTS per 100 Possessions|
But that offensive versatility disappeared when Jack signed elsewhere in the offseason. Not only was the Warriors' bench affected, but Curry no longer had that second point guard to help him throw multiple looks at opposing defenses.
Look at the ragtag group of backup guards Curry has been paired with this season: Toney Douglas, Kent Bazemore and Jordan Crawford.
|2013-14 Warriors backcourt|
|MP||Net PTS per 100 Possessions|
If Blake can provide even a bit of what Jack gave them last year, the Warriors' offense should improve. And if it doesn't, there will be no good excuses left. This group is far too talented to go on playing this way.