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The Houston Rockets had a better offense, a better defense and a better record than the Warriors during the regular season. The Rockets also beat the Warriors two out of three times. The Rockets were better than the Warriors.

But those basic, surface-level metrics don’t get to the heart of what’s really important in the upcoming Western Conference Finals, because they don’t account for the Zaza Pachulia Factor. Or “ZZPF.” An advanced statistic of sorts.

This is a look at the advanced metrics that could determine the winner of the upcoming playoff series, a statistical look at a game played by human beings. The metrics that show where the Warriors have advantages and where they’re vulnerable.

Advantage No. 1: No more Zaza

The Warriors center probably won’t play against the Rockets. He hasn’t played at all during the playoffs, not even during garbage time.

Pachulia started all three games against the Rockets during the regular season, and the Rockets made 46 3-pointers and shot 36 percent from behind the arc in those games. They exploited the ZZPF.

During the regular season when Pachulia was on the court, opponents made 39.6 percent of their 3s — but just 34.4 percent of their 3s when he was on the bench. Pachulia destroyed the Warriors’ perimeter defense, because he’s not a perimeter defender. He’s a low-post defender.

In the playoffs, the Warriors have played Kevon Looney instead of Pachulia. And with Looney on the court, opponents have made only 28.1 percent of their 3s, as opposed to 35 percent when he has been on the bench. Looney is an excellent perimeter defender. He’s the anti-Zaza.

Looney probably will play at least 20 minutes per game in this series. During the regular season, he played only 35 minutes total against the Rockets.

The Rockets shoot more 3s than any other team. They’re averaging 39.9 3s during the playoffs. Defending that shot may be the key to beating them.

Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Warriors are defending 3s well. They’ve allowed opponents to make just 32 percent of their 3s — best in the NBA. The Warriors have improved their perimeter defense since the regular season, when they gave up 35.7 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

They’re playing harder, and they’re not playing Pachulia. That’s what changed.

Vulnerability No. 1: No more Zaza

As much as Pachulia hurt the Warriors’ perimeter defense, he helped their 3-point shooting — despite never shooting a 3 himself.

Pachulia is the Warriors’ best screener. He led the team during the regular season with 2.7 screen assists per game. NBA.com defines a “screen assist” as any screen that directly leads to a made basket.

The Warriors shot 43.9 percent from behind the 3-point line as a team during the regular season when Pachulia was playing. That’s an extremely high number. When he wasn’t playing, the number fell to 37.3 percent. Pachulia is an underrated member of the Warriors’ offense.

He is no longer in their rotation. And without him, the Warriors are making just 32.9 percent of their 3s in the playoffs — the lowest percentage of the four remaining teams.

Looney is partially to blame. He doesn’t set tough screens like Pachulia. So when Looney is on the court, the Warriors are making just 30.3 percent of their 3s.

But Looney isn’t the only reason for the Warriors’ 3-point-shooting slump. Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala are shooting well at home in the playoffs — Thompson is making 40.4 percent of his 3s and Iguodala 44.4 percent. But on the road, Thompson is making only 33.3 percent of his 3s and Iguodala just 27.3 percent.

And Kevin Durant is shooting poorly no matter where the Warriors play. Since he returned from an incomplete rib cartilage fracture on March 29, he has shot only 29.3 percent in 3-point attempts. He could still be injured.

The Warriors may have to win this series with their defense, not their shooting.

Advantage No. 2: Warriors defend Harden without fouling him

James Harden is a great regular-season player. He will probably win the MVP this year. But every year in the playoffs, his numbers drop.

During the regular season, he shot 44.9 percent from the field and 36.7 percent for 3s. So far during the playoffs, he’s shooting 40.7 percent from the field and 34.4 percent in 3-pointers.

Harden likes to isolate on offense. That’s when he has the ball and attacks a defender one on one. Harden isolated 720 times during the regular season, averaged 1.22 points per isolation and shot 44.3 percent, while drawing fouls 19.7 percent of the time. Good numbers.

In this postseason, Harden has isolated 100 times, averaged 1.12 points per isolation and shot 37.5 percent while drawing fouls 17 percent of the time. All of those numbers are down from the regular season. Why?

Perhaps because Harden is facing better defenders, and perhaps because officials allow more contact and call fewer fouls in playoffs.

Whatever the reason, Harden’s efficiency may suffer even more against the Warriors. He’ll face Thompson and Iguodala, two of the best isolation defenders in the NBA. Thompson gave up 0.73 points per possession while defending isolations during the regular season, and allowed opponents to shoot just 30.2 percent. Iguodala was even better — he gave up 0.57 points per possession while defending isolations and allowed opponents to shoot just 22.6 percent.

Not only are those two great defenders, but they also defend without fouling. And that’s important against Harden. He averaged 10.1 foul shots per game during the regular season. But in two games against the Warriors, he attempted only six foul shots.

No one matches up better against Harden than the Warriors.

Vulnerability No. 2: Stephen Curry’s health

If Curry were 100 percent healthy, the Warriors would be bigger favorites to beat Houston than they are already. Vegas sees them as a minus-185 favorite to win the series.

But Curry isn’t 100 percent healthy. The numbers say he’s diminished.

Curry still shoots 3s well — he has made 44.1 percent of them since returning from a sprained left knee. But the rest of his game has not returned. He has become one-dimensional.

He’s averaging only 3.5 assists, down from 6.1 in the regular season. And in the midrange — 5-19 feet from the basket — he’s shooting only 37.5 percent in the playoffs, all the way down from 56.3 percent in the regular season.

Now, things will get even tougher for Curry. He will face Chris Paul, a seven-time first-team All-Defense selection. If Paul can run Curry off the 3-point line and force him to shoot midrange 2s, the Rockets will have an advantage.

Curry may also have to defend Paul, which could be problematic for the Warriors. Curry has struggled keeping ball handlers in front of him. During the playoffs when he has defended an isolation play, he has given up a field goal 100 percent of the time.

Paul frequently will drive at Curry one on one, and probably won’t need a screen to get by him. That’s what the numbers indicate.

Advantage No. 3: Draymond Green’s defense on Clint Capela

Defending Paul may be an issue for the Warriors, but defending Capela, the Rockets’ center, shouldn’t be.

He is the Rockets’ third-best player after Harden and Paul. Capela averaged 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks during the regular season. He was good on offense and defense.

Capela benefits from the Rockets’ shooting. Opponents are so concerned with defending the 3-point line, they rarely double-team Capela when he gets the ball in the lane. He led the league with a 65.2 field-goal percentage.

But Capela is not a low-post center — he almost never posts up. He mostly rolls to the basket. During the regular season, he shot 69.5 percent while rolling, and scored 1.34 points per possession on that play — tops in the NBA among starting centers.

Green specializes in defending the pick and roll. He allowed opponents to shoot just 34.4 percent and score only 0.77 points per possession while they rolled to the basket during the regular season.

Capela is made to order for Green.

Vulnerability No. 3: Turnovers

Some say the Warriors play a better brand of basketball than the Rockets, because the Warriors pass more, play a more aesthetically pleasing version of the sport, a more egalitarian version.

All of that could be true, but the Rockets seem to play a more pragmatic style for the playoffs.

The Warriors average 323.2 passes per game, the Rockets only 227.5 — almost 100 fewer than the Warriors — and yet the Rockets’ offense is better. Their playoff offensive rating is 111.1, compared to the Warriors’ 108.8.

The Rockets shoot quality shots AND minimize the risk of turnovers. Fewer passes, fewer turnovers — simple equation. The Rockets are turning the ball over only 9.7 times per game in the playoffs — fewest in the NBA. The Warriors are turning the ball over 13.4 times per game. A natural byproduct of all their passing.

Maybe the Warriors should pass less.

These advanced statistics tell a story. Games often tell a story of their own.

Grant Cohn covers Bay Area sports for The Press Democrat and pressdemocrat.com.

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