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Kurtenbach: What happens if Warriors play with ‘force’ today but the Rockets still win?

OAKLAND — This Warriors-Rockets series might be the epitome of the modern NBA, highlighting all the best skill, tactics, and idiosyncrasies of two teams who have been at the vanguard of a massive league-wide shift in style, but at the core of the Western Conference Finals, which is tied at 1-1 heading into Sunday’s Game 3 at Oracle Arena, is something that’s really quite simple:
Both teams in this series are talented, so victory really comes down to who wants it more.
That’s the way it’s played out through two games, at least.
“I think we’re at our best when we feel threatened. In Game 1, we felt threatened we came out with a sense of urgency. Game 2 we maybe didn’t feel as threatened and the sense of urgency wasn’t there,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said Saturday. “I don’t think we played with the same force we played with in Game 1.”
“Force” might be the buzzword of the series — cited by everyone involved, it seems — but whether it’s called focus, urgency, going downhill, being locked in, flipping the switch, feeling threatened, or having ‘appropriate fear’, everyone is describing the same thing.
And all those teams lead back to a simple truth about the Warriors.
Golden State believes that when they play engaged, aggressive basketball, they don’t believe there’s a team in the league that can beat them. Such is the prodigiousness of their talent.
The Warriors won’t openly cop to that viewpoint, but they don’t do much to hide it either.
Then again, after 94 games this season, what else are they supposed to believe?
Perhaps the Rockets — who won 65 games in the regular season — are the team that can undercut that Golden State confidence, but heading into Sunday’s pivotal matchup, the Warriors still feel that they’re in complete control of their own destiny.
This team’s issue is that they have fallen into the habit over the course of the year — and once every four games, like clockwork, this postseason — of ceding that control — they get bored or comfortable and subsequently lack the focus/force/fear necessary (though the necessity varies by opponent) to win.
That’s what the Warriors say happened in Game 2 — just like it happened in Game 3 of the second-round series against the Pelicans and Game 4 of the first-round series against the Spurs.
“I think you’re allowed one of those a series — we’ve had our one,” Green said. “Now it’s time to lock in for the remainder of the series.”
Of course, if you’ve been paying attention, you’d know that the Warriors have responded extremely well to those postseason losses.
“When we lock in on each possession and do what we’re supposed to do, we’re tough to beat,” Kevin Durant said Friday. “Small things that you forget about, that’s why we lose. Then you focus on that stuff the next game, we’re winning.”
“They had us on our heels the whole Game 2 — we gotta flip that and put them on their heels,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
That’s a simple formula. Call it arrogant or annoying, that’s where the Warriors’ heads are at.
The fascinating potential of this series is what happens if the Warriors do “flip that” and lose.
If the Rockets prove themselves capable of beating the Warriors in a game where Golden State feels they executed their game plan and played with proper force, focus, and fear, it could prove a massive psychological edge for Houston in this series.
We’re nowhere near that juncture yet — only one team has upheld their end of the bargain in each of the first two games, and the Warriors plan on upholding their end in Game 3.
This is not to say that there are not tactical elements that need to be adjusted or improved upon for the Warriors ahead of Game 3, though. During this lull in action between Game 2 and Sunday’s game, it’s become clear that the Warriors are expecting a lot more out of Stephen Curry not just on the offensive end — that goes without saying after his poor performance in Wednesday — but also on the defensive end.
Curry is being acutely targeted by the Rockets’ isolation-heavy offense in this series, and the guard’s late, unnecessary, and generally fruitless reaches on James Harden and Chris Paul created situations in Game 2 where the Warriors — already a step behind because of a lack of focus — had to over-help on defense.
When that happens, the corner is typically left unguarded, and in Game 2, the Rockets knocked down eight corner 3-pointers (not to mention the drives from the corner to the hoop after wild, late closeouts). If you’re looking for a reason why the Warriors lost in a blowout, PJ Tucker going from 1 point in Game 1 to 22 points in Game 2 — basically through corner 3-pointers — is a decent place to start.
Curry’s teammates didn’t call him out by name — and he’s certainly not the only Warrior who deserves blame — but those defensive breakdowns on the ball cannot happen in Game 3 and beyond, because they lead to breakdowns all over the court and you can’t cede that kind of advantage to an offense as good as Houston’s.
“I think we over-helped quite a bit, but that’s what happens when you don’t contain dribble penetration — we have to be better at the point of attack,”  an atypically terse Green said Saturday. “We need to defend better… it’ll help our offense out a lot as well.”
As if there wasn’t already a ton of pressure on Curry to perform in Game 3.
Still, that’s a small thing — a manageable change.
Much like the Rockets said they were going to stick to their identity after Game 1, the Warriors are sticking to theirs after Game 2.
“The team that wins the game is going to make fewer adjustments than the team that lost the last one — but you do try to anticipate what each team is going to do, go through some possible scenarios,” Kerr said. “There’s no magic play that we’re going to come up with. We’re not changing a whole lot in terms of what we do. We might add something here or there — we just have to play better.”

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