Before I picked a winner between the Warriors and Rockets, I called Jim Barnett and Garry St. Jean.
Barnett is the current Warriors television analyst, and a former NBA player. St. Jean is a television analyst for NBC Sports Bay Area, and a former NBA head coach and general manager. They’re two of the best of basketball analysts in the country.
I asked Barnett and St. Jean seven questions. Based on their answers and arguments, I’m picking the Rockets, even though both picked the Warriors to win.
Here are my questions, their answers and my reasons for picking Houston.
Question No. 1: What do the Warriors have going for them in this series?
Barnett: “The Warriors are defending NBA champions. They’ve got four All Stars. They’ve got three great scorers. They’ve owned the Rockets in the past. Not this year, but in the past. Until the Warriors lost down there on Jan. 20, they had won seven straight games in Houston.”
St. Jean: “The Warriors move the ball a lot. They move people. They are outstanding defensively. That’s their key. When they really defend well, and they don’t turn the ball over, they then get into the open floor and play the beautiful game.”
Grant’s interpretation: Barnett and St. Jean seem to say the Warriors’ biggest advantages are their championship pedigree, past successes in the NBA Finals and against the Rockets, and ball-movement style of play. The Warriors should have more confidence than the Rockets heading into the series.
Question No. 2: What do the Rockets have going for them?
Barnett: “They’ve got Chris Paul, who plays extremely well against the Warriors. They’ve got James Harden, who’s going to be the MVP. They’ve got Trevor Ariza, who can defend Kevin Durant probably as well as anybody in the league. Clint Capela is averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds this year. He has really improved. Eric Gordon, 18 points a game and can shoot 3s.”
St. Jean: “Their defense is a lot better than it was in the past. They have a style of play that’s unique on the offensive end. They hunt the mismatch via the pick and roll, and then they isolate, and they’re going to shoot the 3, or dribble drive to finish, lob, or pass to a corner for a 3.”
Grant’s interpretation: The Rockets don’t have a championship pedigree, but are the best team the Warriors have faced in the playoffs since Steve Kerr became head coach in 2014. The Rockets have a state-of-the-art NBA offense, an excellent coach — Mike D’Antoni — an excellent defense and a dominant trio of Harden, Paul and Capela. The Rockets are 50-5 this season these three play together.
Question No. 3: Who is the most important player for Warriors in this series?
Barnett: “Draymond Green, just because of his defense. He averaged a triple double in the series against New Orleans. If he didn’t play, I’m not sure they would have won that series. It would have been a lot more difficult.”
St. Jean: “Klay Thompson. He’s got the job to guard either one of Harden or Paul, and then he’s expected to put up the numbers he has been putting up.”