On Saturday night time in Oakland, California, the reigning NBA MVP takes on the reigning champs. This marks the 17th time the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets have squared off since 2016-17, and searching again on the information from these video games offers a captivating glimpse into one of many NBA’s most high-profile matchups: James Harden vs. the Warriors’ protection.
The Rockets like to isolate Harden, however once they play Golden State, it is extra correct to say that they like to isolate him in opposition to Stephen Curry. Over the previous three seasons, no person has switched onto Harden as a lot as Curry, and that is no accident.
Except for splashing all these 3s, the defining trait of the Warriors dynasty could be the tendency to change defensive assignments. The Rockets attempt to exploit that tendency by searching and isolating mismatches greater than another rival.
Have a look at the switching information from final season’s epic seven-game sequence within the Western Convention finals. It is clear which defender Harden and the Rockets have been focusing on:
Curry switched onto Harden as many occasions as the following 5 Warriors mixed. Why? As a result of it really works. The numbers are staggering.
Relationship again to the 2016-17 season, greater than 5,000 distinctive NBA participant duos have matched up not less than 100 occasions. However inside that huge pattern, Harden vs. Curry produces essentially the most excessive stats.
Lest you suppose I am exaggerating, take into account these 4 factoids, through Second Spectrum monitoring:
No different matchup elicits a better utilization price by the offensive participant
No different matchup is extra prone to embody a drive
Solely three different matchups produce free throws at a better price
Solely six different matchups yield extra factors for the offensive participant
Out of greater than 5,000.
James Harden drives into the lane and faculties Steph Curry with a nasty step-back jumper, reducing the Warriors’ result in 93-83.
Harden vs. Curry is the wildest analytical matchup within the NBA, particularly when you think about the stakes concerned. In any case, these are two MVPs and scoring champs battling for Western supremacy.
Once you examine Harden’s key matchup numbers with different Golden State defenders, you rapidly perceive why Houston designs units to focus on Curry:
Harden is way more aggressive and way more fruitful in opposition to Curry than in opposition to another Warriors participant. His utilization price surges to 50.7 — proper across the common for an NBA Jam sport, however a cartoonish quantity for any real-life setting.
With Curry on him, Harden is greater than twice as prone to drive the ball to the ring and get to the free throw line.
💪 drive for @JHarden13!
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) Could 29, 2018
The opposite guys in that desk are both robust sufficient or lengthy sufficient to dissuade Harden’s aggression, however Curry is slight and quick in comparison with his teammates, and he’s a lot much less in a position to gradual Harden’s rim assaults.
Whereas it is tempting to interpret these information as indictments of Curry’s protection, there’s one thing else occurring right here. It simply so occurs that the entire different defenders in that desk are world-class, and Houston’s tendency to isolate and assault Curry at freakish charges says simply as a lot about its respect for these different dudes because it does about Curry. Isolating Curry is not Houston’s most suitable option, it is actually the Rockets’ solely likelihood.
Watching the Rockets today is an train in repetition. They like to isolate Harden again and again and over. However in opposition to Golden State, that bread-and-butter tactic actually is smart solely in opposition to Curry or the Warriors’ slower bigs reminiscent of Kevon Looney. Plus, when Curry is defending Harden, which means dudes reminiscent of Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson are busy stifling Houston’s secondary scorers, additional establishing Harden vs. Curry as the most suitable choice out there.
Greater than another defender he faces within the NBA, Harden sees Curry as a pathway to factors. Though Harden averages 48 factors per 100 possessions, that quantity fluctuates a ton relying on the defender. Thompson holds Harden to 20 fewer factors when he’s the first defender. However in opposition to Curry, Harden surges. Within the 2018 playoffs, Harden poured in 58 factors per 100 possessions in opposition to Curry, and a disproportionate quantity of these factors got here from the free throw line.
Over the previous three seasons, Harden has matched up in opposition to 42 particular person gamers not less than 100 occasions, however none leads to free throws as often because the Curry showdown. Of that group of Harden defenders, Iguodala has accomplished the very best work in opposition to The Beard, holding him to 17.2 factors per 100 possessions on a 21.Zero efficient subject purpose share. These are atrocious numbers for Harden, however they function one other reminder that Iguodala is one among Golden State’s strongest defensive weapons come playoff time.
Nonetheless, whereas the numbers go away little doubt that Harden dominates his particular person matchups in opposition to Curry, basketball stays a crew sport. Curry appears greater than content material to win the wars — and the titles.