HOUSTON – The Rockets and Warriors are embroiled in yet another drama-filled postseason series. The similarities to last season's seven-game series are there, only with the shoe on the other foot.
One season ago, Game 6 arrived as the first elimination game of the series between the Rockets and Warriors. The game came just after one of the stars in the series went down with an injury late in Game 5, a game that team won to take a three games to two advantage in the series.
Last season, it was Houston that lost Chris Paul to a hamstring injury, while claiming the 3-2 edge heading into Game 6.
Fast forward to this season and now it's Golden State that lost Kevin Durant to a calf strain in Game 5. He is out for the remainder of the series as they head into Game 6 with a 3-2 series edge.
Game 7... necessary?
If the Rockets are going to take advantage of Durant's absence and avoid elimination in Game 6 to give themselves a chance to win the win series back at Oracle Arena in Game 7, a strong start in Friday night's game might help. Houston has trailed after the first quarter in all five games. See the table below.
First quarter scoring:
Game 1 28 19
Game 2 29 20
Game 3 26 25
Game 4 28 25
Game 5 31 17
One of the biggest reasons for the Rockets' struggles offensively in the first quarter is the lack of typical production from reigning MVP James Harden in the opening period. During the regular season, Harden led the NBA in first-quarter scoring. But his numbers this series in the opening stanza represent a significant dropoff.
James Harden 1st quarter scoring:
Reg. Season Playoffs vs Warriors
Pts 9.6 6.4
FG% 44.4 30.8
3pt FG% 38.7 27.3
Maybe we shouldn't have been surprised by Harden's struggles, considering in his three games against the Warriors in the regular season, he also struggled in the first quarter averaging just seven points per game on miserable 26.3 percent field goal shooting and just 25 percent three-point shooting.
Something that likely changes in Game 6 is the Warriors willingness to launch from deep. In the fourth quarter of Game 5 after Durant's calf injury, the Warriors went 5-11 on three-pointers. That's the most three-pointers they've made in any quarter of the five games in the series thus far. They also made 13 treys to the Rockets 12 makes. The only game in this series they have made more three-pointers.
Home Sweet Home
All five games have been won by the home team and the oddsmakers favor that happening again with the Rockets as seven-point favorites. Though one constant in each game in this series is the final margin has been close. Each of the first five games of this series have been decided by five points or less. Houston is 5-0 at home this postseason.
Harden is a big part of that this series, averaging 39.5 points per game in Houston, while popping for just 31.7 points per game in the three games in Oakland.
Who does Kerr turn to without Durant?
The Warriors are losing a seven-footer in Durant, which likely hurts their defense because of his length, but he hasn't been much a factor rebounding and the Warriors have a number of options with whom to give his minutes.
Center Andrew Bogut has played just 10 minutes in the series and didn't play at all in Games 4 or 5. It's unlikely that Warriors coach Steve Kerr decides to install a center like Bogut into the mix. Those minutes could go to Jonas Jerebko or Jordan Bell.
Where in the world is Clint Capela?
If Kerr decides to go with Bogut, a true center, that could actually increase Clint Capela's effectiveness -- something the Rockets would obviously welcome. Capela has been exceptionally ineffective offensively in the first five games.
Capela has scored six or fewer points in four of the 10 playoff games, including twice against Golden State.
In Game 5, for the first time in his career, Capela attempted at least 10 shots, made three or fewer shots and scored less than 10 points. He scored just six points and, of course, all of his shots were taken right at the rim. Houston needs more that from Capela.
What to watch for in Game 6?
Expect Harden to come out very aggressive and his teammates to follow as the Rockets try to play from in front for the first time this series. Remember the Rockets recovered quickly in Game 4 from their slow start and quickly built a double-figure lead that they held for most of the rest of the game.
Houston will send this series back to Oakland for Game 7.