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HOUSTON — This Western Conference Finals series between the Warriors and the Houston Rockets has a lot of hype. It pits a superteam that’s trying to win its second-straight championship against a team with two superstar veterans who have never won a title and are extremely hungry for one.
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WATCH: Warriors’ Steve Kerr discuss Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals
The teams have been on a collision course all season, with Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey acknowledging in December that his team was “obsessed” figuring out how to beat the Warriors.
But Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr said he tried not to put too much weight on the inevitability of the matchup and its potential dangers — until now. And he said it has come at just the right time for his team.
“I think we’re in excellent shape mentally, I mean this is the most dialed in we’ve been all year,” Kerr said.
When Klay Thompson was asked if this might be the toughest opponent that the Warriors have faced over the last four years, he didn’t hesitate in his response.
“It hasn’t just been a smooth ride for four years,” Thompson said. “We’ve had plenty of adversity. This is another challenge for us that we’re up to.”
Thompson pointed out that the Warriors struggled against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Semifinals in 2015 before eventually beating them in six games. He talked about how the Warriors came back from a 3-1 series deficit against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals in 2016. And then he talked about the Warriors’ epic NBA Finals series against Cleveland the last three seasons.
Kerr added that he hasn’t put much thought into ranking all of the Warriors’ past opponents. But that being said, he said the Rockets are among the most talented teams the Warriors have played since he became their coach in 2014.
“They’re right there at the top,” Kerr said. “They won 65 games for a reason. They’re loaded, they’re well-coached, they have a great format in the way they play, they make it very difficult for you to guard. And they’re much better defensively than they’ve been in the past too. This is an excellent team. I don’t know how they stack up with all those other teams. I don’t even remember those other teams. It’s just the Rockets right now.”
One thing is for sure — the Rockets present a unique challenge for the Warriors.
Over the past week, everyone has a different take on how to beat the Rockets. Kerr said winning the possession battle is paramount. Draymond Green said both teams have incredible offensive weapons, so the difference will be who can get more stops. Everyone mentioned the importance of trying to slow down Chris Paul and James Harden while avoiding getting foul calls.
But on Sunday, Thompson added yet another take on what will be the key to this series — keeping Paul off of the 3-point line.
“He’s been a great shooter his whole career, people forget about that because he’s so good at everything else,” Thompson said. “Just don’t want to let him get going from 3. We’ll take twos, we’ll take contested twos. That’s easier said than done because they shoot so many. We want to win that 3-point battle. I think that’s going to be very indicative of who is going to come out of this series.”
It’s a matchup that has a lot of layers of intrigue. It’s one that the Rockets have been waiting for since the summer — and that the Warriors have accepted with the most focus they’ve shown all season.
Basically, for the Warriors to win on the road against this good of a Rockets team, they’re going to have to be more locked in than they’ve been over the last six months, and potentially over the last four years.
“We’re so talented at times we can be aloof, and that’s not good in the playoffs,” Thompson said. “You don’t want to give away possessions or games in any playoff series. We’re in an unfamiliar situation, starting off on the road, but it’s a new challenge for us. Steve thinks we feel threatened and we have the appropriate fear — and that’s when we play our best when we’re at the edge and locked in.”
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