Kevin Durant Outduels James Harden as Warriors Take 2-0 Series Lead vs. Rockets

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2019

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, left, dribbles past Houston Rockets' Chris Paul during the second half of Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

The Golden State Warriors needed seven games to dispatch of the Houston Rockets in last season's Western Conference Finals, but they are already halfway to a sweep in this year's second-round showdown following Tuesday's 115-109 victory in Game 2 at Oracle Arena.

The two-time defending champions are also two victories away from their fifth consecutive trip to the Western Conference Finals after holding serve in the first two games at home.

All five Warriors starters scored in double figures, including Kevin Durant (29 points, five rebounds and four assists), Klay Thompson (21 points, five rebounds and three steals), Stephen Curry (20 points and five assists) and Draymond Green (15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists). 

James Harden spearheaded the Rockets' effort with 29 points and seven rebounds, but he had six turnovers and dealt with an eye injury for much of the game.

         

Warriors Proving Highly Anticipated Rockets Rematch Won't Live Up to Hype

NBA fans were robbed of some drama in last season's Western Conference Finals when the Rockets built a 3-2 series lead over the Warriors and had the dynasty on the brink only for Chris Paul to suffer a hamstring injury and miss the final two games.

This entire season has been building toward the rematch with a healthy Paul and Harden playing at an MVP level. This was supposed to be the de facto NBA Finals and Golden State's biggest test on the road to a three-peat.

So far, it isn't living up to the hype.

While Game 1 was a close battle that came down to the final seconds, the actual basketball took a backseat to constant complaining about officials and debates about what defines the "landing zone" for a shooter. Paul was ejected, Harden told reporters he just wanted a "fair chance" with the refs even though he led the league in free-throw attempts by 172, and general manager Daryl Morey took to Twitter to voice his grievances.

As if that wasn't enough, Sam Amick of The Athletic reported "the Rockets have been making a data-driven case with the NBA for quite some time that these Superteam Warriors are getting a major officiating advantage in these heavy-hitter matchups."

While the complaining was still present following whistles in Game 2, something else became more apparent—this series likely isn't going the full seven games because the Warriors are far more talented.

Tuesday's showdown featured trash-talking, physicality and a handful of concerning injuries, with Curry going to the locker room with a dislocated finger and Harden getting scratched in his eye.

However, the Warriors were in control throughout the contest and left little doubt who would win even when the Rockets went on runs. That was especially the case when they were fully engaged on defense for stretches, which wasn't always the case for a unit that finished 11th league-wide in defensive rating during the regular season, per NBA.com.

Curry drew an offensive foul on Paul, stripped Harden as he went up for a three, blocked Clint Capela and hounded No. 13 as a ball-handler on the top of the key.

Thompson caused havoc with his rotations on the perimeter, while Durant used his length to cut off passing lanes and contest shots. Green roamed like a free safety, clogging Harden's driving angles and flying out to shooters like the four-time All-Defensive selection he is.

A decent effort on defense from Golden State saps this series of its seven-game potential since the Warriors' lethal offense is nearly impossible to counter.

Durant put the win on ice with his mid-range game in crunch time, Thompson found his touch from deep in the third quarter, Curry created spacing even though he was only 3-of-13 from deep and Andre Iguodala and Green took advantage of the double-teams Durant drew by darting into the middle of the floor and connecting on lob and skip passes.

Most concerning for Houston: Durant, Curry and Thompson were a lackluster 23-of-56 (41.1 percent) combined from the field. They will likely shoot better than that in the coming games, further decimating Houston's comeback chances.

The Rockets didn't play particularly poorly in Game 2. They hit 42.5 percent of their triples and survived many of the Warriors' best punches to remain within striking distance. But after trimming Golden State's lead to three midway through the fourth quarter, Houston fell behind by double digits and could never close the gap.

Between Golden State's talent disparity, the constant focus on the officiating instead of the on-court product and the daunting reality that the Warriors still have another level to reach, the much-hyped rematch appears to be headed toward a four- or five-game dud.

                

What's Next?

The series shifts to Houston for Saturday's Game 3 and Monday's Game 4.