Warriors Advance to NBA Finals as Rockets Overheat in Oakland…and the Mercurial Josh Smith


Riley Curry is getting some ice cream tonight! The long-starved Dub Nation (40 year wait in between Finals appearances) will roar on the national stage at least four more times. The well-balanced Golden State Warriors will face the top-heavy Cleveland Cavs in the NBA Finals starting on Thursday, June 4. They advanced because of that balance. A balance the Rockets (and most other teams) lack. We will wait for a week while injured body parts attempt to heal. Kyrie’s knee, ankles, and feet will be a topic. Dellevadova’s questionable (he’s over the borderline, in my view) antics will be debated. Klay Thompson took a Trevor Ariza MMA-style knee to the side of his head. The next few days may be foggy for Klay. Who knows how many Advils Steph Curry has chomped since he landed on the back of his shoulder and neck, and his head met the Houston hardwood to the horror of every Bay Area human with a hoops interest.

Andre Iguodala’s lockdown defense helped silence the harmonies of James Harden, before he took a disgustingly obvious and intentional forearm shiver to the neck by Dwight Howard, but…it’s all over with now. Iguodala came to the Bay Area for a chance to make a deep playoff run. He iced the series by icing Harden.

Cavs in 4 games over the wounded Hawks after surviving the Bulls. Warriors in 5 over the enigmatic Rockets, after surviving the Grizzlies.

Many will blame James Harden and his historic Game 5 turnover bonanza (a baker’s dozen). Harden was indeed awful in Games 3 and 5. On the other hand, Harden was downright masterful in Games 1, 2, and 4. There is no middle ground with Harden. The Houston offense is so entirely Harden-based, there is no margin for error. LeBron will need the balance of Kyrie creating off the bounce for the Cavs to have any hope against Golden State in the Finals.

I kept thinking of Josh Smith, and how he may be the true Karma Chameleon (he comes and goes…he comes and go—-oh oh—ohs). One of the more tumultuous individual year’s in NBA history started in Detroit for Josh Smith. Incredibly, the former near-All-Star was cut by the Pistons because he can’t hit from deep (career: 28.5%). After Houston signed Smith, he played significantly better, including shooting a reasonable 63-191 (33%). Though 35-40% is closer to ideal, power forwards who can hit 33% are useful. As many fully grasp, three-pointers are 1.5x as valuable as twos. This means 33.3% from deep is equivalent to 50% from inside the arc. Effective field-goal percentage is a more useful statistic these days than overall field-goal percentage, as threes are more common than ever.

Here are Josh Smith’s (J-Smoove) not-so-smooth playoff splits, starting with the Rockets-Clippers series (Dallas wasn’t playing anything close to playoff-level defense, so we can’t count those numbers).

The numbers listed below are: field goals made, field goals attempted, three-pointers made, three-pointers attempted, points, and effective field-goal % (adjusts for increased value of three-pointers)

vs LAC
Wins
Gm 2: FG: 3-9, 3-PT: 0-1, 8 pts
Gm 5: FG: 4-7, 3-PT: 1-3, 9 pts
Gm 6: FG: 5-9, 3-PT: 4-7, 19 pts
Gm 7: FG: 6-10, 3-PT: 2-4, 15 pts
Total (wins):
FG: 18-35 (51.4%), 3-PT: 7-15 (46.6%), 12.8 ppg (20.4 minutes/game)
Effective FG%: 21.5-35 (61.4%)
Losses
Gm 1: FG: 3-12, 3-PT: 1-5, 9 pts (blowout)
Gm 3: FG: 3-10, 3-PT: 0-3, 7 pts (blowout)
Gm 4: FG: 0-2, 3-PT: 0-0, 1 pt (blowout)
Total (losses):
6-24 (25%), 3-PT: 1-8 (12.5%), 5.7 ppg (18.7 minutes/game)
Effective FG%: 6.5-24 (27%)
vs Golden State
Win
Gm 4: FG: 7-8, 3-PT: 3-4, 20 pts
Effective FG%: 8.5-8 (over 100%, he broke the stat!)
Losses
Gm 1: FG: 6-16, 3-PT: 2-6, 17 pts (Gm 1 was a nail-biting, 4-pt loss for HOU)
Gm 2: FG: 5-17, 3-PT: 0-3, 10 pts
(Harden brilliant, one might argue Smith lost them any hope of winning this series with this shooting performance)
Gm 3: FG: 6-14, 3-PT: 3-5, 16 pts
(Exception, Smith was very good in a blowout loss, however, he only had 6 at half (HOU was down 62-37)
Gm 5: FG: 3-14, 3-PT: 2-7, 11 pts
Total (losses):
FG: 20-61 (32.8%), 3-PT: 7-21 (33.3%), 13.5 ppg (24 minutes/game)
Effective FG%: 23.5-61 (38.5%)
***
Of course it’s not all on Josh Smith. If Donatas Motiejunas wasn’t out for the season, his 37% three-point shooting would have taken some of the pressure off of Harden as well. If Patrick Beverley’s wrist wasn’t broken, he would have made life much more difficult for Steph Curry than the way, way, way past-his-prime Jason Terry was able to.
Smith didn’t lose those three playoff games against the Clippers and these four playoff games against the Warriors…didn’t lose them by himself. He lost them with his teammates, led by Harden’s offense and Howard’s defense. There were other significant role players (Ariza, Brewer, Jones), but none were as up-and-down and as pivotal as Smith. When an offense lives and dies with one player, those three-pointers have to go down. When they don’t, that coveted “stretch four” isn’t so stretchy, and that’s part of why the turnovers piled up…not enough spacing.
The Warriors were the better team and should have won this series. If a few things go differently in Game 2, we would be talking about Game 6. Instead, the Rockets were demolished in embarrassing fashion in Game 3, Steph Curry’s accident in Game 4, and Game 5 was never in doubt in the 4th quarter. This summer, the Rockets have to decide which Josh Smith is the real Josh Smith, a question still haunting fans in Atlanta and in Detroit.
Golden State moves on…draining threes with regularity…sharing the wealth…trusting in the extra pass. Draymond Green is their version of Smith…a younger, more physical force with an entirely more assertive personality…but without nearly the leaping or shot-blocking ability of Smith. Green will be taking those threes from the top of the key after Curry gets trapped at half-court. The Warriors will need just enough of them to find the bottom of the net to finish this improbably glorious season. Fortunately for Golden State, they will have four or five other three-point shooters (most of whom are also excellent defenders) who will find open looks. That’s the beauty of having Steph Curry and a balanced attack.
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