How should Houston try to stop Golden State’s Hamptons Five? What’s most exciting about this Western Conference finals matchup?
Our NBA experts answer the big questions and make predictions for Rockets-Warriors.
1. What are you most excited to watch in this series?
Marc J. Spears, The Undefeated: The matchup between the two star backcourts. Stephen Curry vs. Chris Paul., James Harden vs. Klay Thompson. Something has to give. Someone is going to fatigue. Someone is going to get crossed over. And when that happens, who is going to step up offensively in that spot? Haven’t seen a playoff backcourt matchup like this in a while.
Royce Young, ESPN.com: Everything. It’s the two best teams from the season playing each other, with storylines and stars and narratives and even some trash-talk mixed in. It’s kind of all you could want in a series.
Andrew Han, ESPN.com: Great defense going down in flames to greater offense. It’s one thing to see high-scoring games because one team overwhelms another, but high-octane offenses pulverizing the two staunchest defenses in the postseason will make for a sweeping series of sonorous scoring.
Micah Adams, ESPN Stats & Info: This is the series everyone has wanted all along, and I love that Houston gets its shot. General manager Daryl Morey has admitted that the entire franchise is obsessed with beating the Warriors, and I’m excited to see what happens when — unlike in the regular season — everyone is available and each team has the other’s undivided attention. How do Morey’s pieces all fit? Will the iso sets continue to work? Can Harden be the best player in this series? There are too many subplots to pick just one.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: How Houston’s switching defense holds up against Golden State. As successful as the strategy has been all season, clearly it was designed specifically to deal with the way the Warriors force defenses to switch. Will a season’s worth of practice, plus personnel choices, pay off?
2. Which non-All-Star will you be paying closest attention to?
Han: Can Luc Mbah a Moute (or PJ Tucker) sink open shots? When the Warriors trot out the Hamptons Five (or any Hamptons-adjacent) lineup, Mbah a Moute allows for the necessary defensive switching in order to stay with Golden State. If he’s able to hit 3s at his regular-season mark (36.4 percent, versus 20 percent in the postseason), Mbah a Moute will prove to be a crucial anchor for the Rockets’ plan of attack … or defense, I should say.
Pelton: Clint Capela. How well Capela holds up switching on Curry, and whether he can create problems on the offensive glass when the Warriors switch smaller defenders on him, will go a long way toward determining the outcome of this series.
Spears: For the Warriors, it is forward Andre Iguodala. The 2015 NBA Finals MVP is an underrated part of the Hamptons Five. If Iguodala plays well, the Warriors are very tough to beat. Capela is that player for Houston. Capela rebounds, dunks and blocks shots. Keep an eye on Capela after he said the Rockets were better following a victory over the Warriors on Jan. 20.
Adams: Capela doesn’t count, since he’s been performing like an All-Star the entire season and just outplayed both Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert in back-to-back series. I’ll go with Tucker. Although Morey added lots of wing depth to counteract Golden State’s positionless basketball, none is as important as Tucker, who will see lots of Kevin Durant and Draymond Green.
Young: Capela. He was absolutely dominant in the series against Utah, but he’s going to be asked to do so much more against the Warriors. He’ll have to do the usual stuff of protecting the rim, but how does he handle being on an island caught on a switch with Steph or KD? He’s going to have a lot of responsibility in this series.
3. What is Houston’s best answer to the Hamptons Five?
Pelton: I think the Rockets should start out trying to play their typical starting five. If Capela proves incapable of defending this group, then Tucker sliding down to center with Eric Gordon giving Houston another shooter is a nice adjustment to have.
Young: Paul, Harden, Gordon, Ariza, Tucker. Just go all in, supersmall. Draymond Green isn’t going to beat you up inside, and Tucker can dig in and defend there. The Rockets could switch everything, work to space out the floor and try and outscore the Warriors. It’s a risky group, but why not go to the extreme?
Adams: TBD, which is kind of the point. I’m curious to see how Mike D’Antoni and his staff adjust as the series progresses. Remember, the Hamptons Five is essentially the evolution of the Death Lineup, which itself came into its own only after Steve Kerr’s adjustment — at the behest of assistant Nick U’Ren — after falling down 2-1 in the 2015 Finals. Is Houston’s best answer to the Hamptons Five a lineup? Is it a specific action? Is it a specific matchup?
Han: Foul trouble. The Rockets should attack Green as early and often as possible to limit the number of minutes the Hamptons Five can get on the floor. If Green’s minutes can be limited in crunchtime, it frees up Houston to play its own destructive small-ball lineup.
Spears: Wow. That’s a really good question. The best thing is to get the Warriors into foul trouble so they can’t use it. Perhaps if Capela does really well, it forces the Warriors to bring one of their own bigs into the game to counter him. Prayer can also be helpful.
4. Will the result of this series say more about the Warriors or the Rockets?
Adams: The Rockets are trying to take down a titan. But the Warriors are trying to rewrite legacies and record books. They are the team attempting to win a third championship in four seasons, with a clock ticking before some potentially massive decisions next summer. If the Warriors can beat Houston — a team constructed with the sole purpose of beating them — it further legitimizes Golden State’s quest to be considered the best team in NBA history.
Young: The Rockets. They have not been shy about their intent in building this roster. It has been shaped to compete with the Warriors, and if they’re not competitive, they’re going to have a lot of questions to ask this offseason.
Pelton: I think that depends on how the series goes. Going in, I would say Houston has somewhat more to prove, but Golden State also needs to show that when the team has been less than dominant in the postseason, it’s mostly about losing focus rather than actually slipping as a team.
Spears: It will tell us how for real Harden, Paul, Capela and the Rockets really are. There will also be a big spotlight on D’Antoni, who has never coached a team to the NBA Finals before. Whoever wins this series is the favorite to win the championship. The Rockets are the NBA’s best regular-season team. But to be a champion, they have the tough task of knocking off the proven champs.
Han: Certainly the Rockets, who were hypothesized to withstand this specific Kobayashi Maru simulation. If victorious, then Houston has solved a riddle (at least for one season) that only LeBron James has accomplished when it mattered. But even in failure, there should be ample evidence to identify how near or far they are from their goal of a title.
5. Who wins the series, and in how many games?
Young: Houston in seven. The explanation is pretty simple: The Rockets have home court, and they were the best team all season. It shouldn’t feel like such an outlandish thing to pick that kind of team, but here we are because … Warriors. It feels like maybe something special is happening for Paul and Harden, and they can check a big box off together.
Spears: I expect a very long series. A lot of 3s. High-scoring. Beautiful basketball. Challenged defenses. But as good as Harden and Paul are, the Warriors’ star power is too much to overcome. Too much offensive power, and the experience will be very helpful, too. The Warriors will advance to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals with a Game 7 victory in Houston.
Han: It will be five hard-fought games, but Golden State will notch its fourth straight trip to the Finals. Afterward, Morey will consult with Elon Musk’s Boring Company on flamethrower mechanics, brick manufacturing and the applicability in winning an NBA title. Also, expect GPU prices to climb as the Rockets’ analytics staff builds a graphics-card farm to mine incremental plus-minus data.
Adams: Warriors in five. I actually think this is a situation in which the Rockets’ own outspoken obsession works against them. Add in the fact that they won the regular-season series, and they will get Golden State’s absolute best shot from the jump. I expect to see the very best version of the Warriors. Unless the Rockets go absolutely bananas from beyond the arc, which isn’t out of the question, I think the Warriors get to their fourth straight Finals and do it convincingly.
Pelton: I’ve gone back and forth on this pick for months, but ultimately I’m going with the Warriors in six because I think they have a gear they can get to that the Rockets can’t quite match.