The Western Conference Finals is now tied 1-1 after the Houston Rockets beat the Golden State Warriors 127-105 in Game 2. Something I like to do after every game is go back and look at the box score stats. I do this because I like to see what key numbers may have attributed to a teams win or loss. After last night’s game I did exactly that, and one key stat I found was quite surprising.
Kevin Durant has led the Golden State Warriors in scoring over the course of the two Western Conference Finals games so far, scoring 75 points (37 in Game 1/38 in Game 2). The next leading scorer on the Warriors is Klay Thompson, who’s scored 36 points in those two games. Kevin Durant has 39 more points in two games than any other Warrior, but that’s not the most interesting part. While Durant has been a scoring machine so far, has just 1 assist in two games. In five games of the first round against the San Antonio Spurs, Kevin Durant averaged 5.2 assists per game. In the Western Conference Semifinals against the New Orleans Pelicans, Durant averaged 4.8 assists per game. During the two games of the Western Conference Finals, Durant has averaged 0.5 assists per game.
Why is this significant? It’s significant because it’s not the Warriors game. In the first round of the playoffs, the Warriors averaged 26.8 assists per game. During the second round, they averaged 30.8 assists per game. One of the main reasons why the Warriors have been so dominant over the last few seasons is because they share the ball. In two games of the Western Conference Finals so far, the Warriors are averaging 22.5 assists per game. Their assist numbers have dipped significantly in the Western Conference Finals, and Kevin Durant is the main reason why.
Going into this series, we’ve known these two teams have different styles of play. The Warriors share the ball, while the Rockets play a lot of iso ball. That’s how both teams have won games all season long. For whatever reason, Kevin Durant is playing the Rockets style of basketball instead of playing the Warriors game. For the Warriors to advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year, Kevin Durant has to go back to the Warriors style.
During Game 1, Durant’s iso scoring and lack of assists wasn’t a problem. The main reason for that is because the Rockets played so much iso ball, they only had 18 assists all game. Draymond Green (9 assists) and Steph Curry (8 assists) did enough to match the entire Rockets team ball movement between the two of them. The Warriors passing style of offense proved to be superior in Game 1. Game 2 was a different story. Houston still played some iso ball, but they mixed that in with the Warriors style of offense. Their ball movement was very much improved, totaling 23 assists compared to their 18 in Game 1. They out assisted the Warriors 23-21 in Game 2. Draymond Green (6 assists) and Steph Curry (7 assists) were still playing the Warriors style of offense, but no other player on the Warriors had more than two assists.
If the Rockets are going to move the ball like they did in Game 2, the Warriors better get Durant to start contributing to their assists. I get having a scorers mentality. Kevin Durant wants to get his team to the NBA Finals and win another championship, so he’s trying to score as many points as he can, but he’s going about it all wrong. When your star player is playing a different style of basketball than the rest of your team, it’s not likely to be effective.
To stop Houston from advancing to the NBA Finals, Kevin Durant must return to the five assist Durant we saw in the first two rounds of the playoffs. He can’t be the 0.5 assist Durant we’re seeing right now. Too many iso’s, not enough assists, and not the Warriors game. Kevin Durant will be the key factor for the Warriors in this series. If he continues to play iso ball instead of moving the ball, I think the Rockets will advance. If Durant returns to the Warriors style of play, they’ll move on to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year.