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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:04 AM

Game 1 - Warriors at Rockets

Western Conference Finals – Game 1
No. 2 Golden State at No. 1 Houston (TNT, 9:00 p.m. ET)

2017-18 Regular Season (Rockets 2-1)
Jan. 20 Rockets (+2.5) vs. Warriors 116-106 (Under 237.5)
Jan. 4 Warriors (-4.5) at Rockets 124-114 (Over 230.5)
Oct. 17 Rockets (+9.5) at Warriors 122-121 (Over 230.5)

The Western Conference Finals will tip off Monday as Houston and Golden State begin their best-of-seven matchup in Game 1 from the Toyota Center. Perhaps it was fitting that the NBA scheduled the two clubs to play on opening night and maybe a sign of things to come as the Rockets spoiled the Warriors celebration by rallying for a 122-121 victory as 9 ½-point underdogs.  

Golden State appeared to be on its way to an easy win in the opener back on Oct. 17, leading 71-62 at the break and building that margin to 13 points (101-88) entering the final 12 minutes. However, the offense for the Warriors cooled off in the fourth quarter with just 20 points while Houston connected for 34 and that was the slightest difference.

Including that win, Houston went 2-1 against Golden State in this year’ regular season and the final combined scored of those matchups was Warriors 353, Rockets 352. Houston All-Star guard James Harden sat out the one loss but the Warriors didn't have Kevin Durant available either.

For Game 1, [...] opened the Rockets as a 1 ½-point home favorites and that says something considering Golden State was listed as a road favorite (-2 ½, -4 ½) in the two regular season encounters from Houston.

Catching points is a rarity for Golden State, especially in the playoffs. VegasInsider.com NBA expert Kevin Rogers explained, “Since 2015, the Warriors have been listed as an underdog five times in the playoffs, posting a 3-2 record both straight up and against the spread. One of those underdog opportunities came at Houston in Game 3 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals as the Warriors rolled the Rockets, 115-80 as a 1 ½-point ‘dogs. It’s hard to judge the Warriors in the ‘dog role this season due to their multitude of injuries as Golden State produced a 1-5 ATS mark.”

Houston has gone 8-2 in this year’s playoffs and it’s a respectable 6-4 at the betting counter despite laying double digits in six of the games. The Rockets do have a blemish at home, which came in Game 2 of their second round series against Utah. The Jazz connected on 15 bombs from 3-point land and coincidentally, Minnesota also hit 15 from distance in its Game 3 win (121-105) at home in the first round.

Neither the Jazz or Timberwolves are great 3-point shooting teams but the same can’t be said for Golden State, who was ranked first in shooting (38.4%) from beyond the arc. The Warriors haven’t been as sharp in the playoffs (32.9%) from 3-point land but their overall field goal percentage (46.9%) is still the best of the remaining four teams.

Similar to Houston, Golden State is also 8-2 in the playoffs but just 5-5 ATS. The two setbacks for the Warriors both occurred on the road, a 103-90 loss to San Antonio in Game 4 of the first round and a 119-100 defeat to New Orleans in Game 3 of the conference semifinals. Not surprisingly, the Warriors shot 38 percent in those losses and this series will likely be determined on the outside shot.

Going back to the 2014 postseason, the Warriors are 13-1 in Game 1's but this matchup will be new territory for the club since it was home for all of those games. Houston has won its last four series openers.

We often hear the expression that the NBA is a “Make or Miss” league and while its overused, it’s the truth. With that being said, which superstar group gives you more confidence with your wagers?

The Rockets backcourt of Harden (28.5 PPG, 7.4 APG) and Chris Paul (21.8 PPG, 6.4 APG) or Golden State’s All-Star quartet of Durant (28.5 PPG), Stephen Curry (24.5 PPG), Klay Thompson (21.2 PPG) and Draymond Green, who is almost averaging a triple-double (13.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 9 APG) in this year’s postseason.

NBA expert Tony Mejia believes the Rockets have a strong case of another All-Star and he could be the X-factor in this series. He said, “Houston has seen Clint Capela raise his level of play this postseason, so if there’s another level to be had, the Rockets can hold serve as the top seed and pull off the upset in the series. His ability to punish the Warriors’ desire to go small with the “Hamptons Five,” the most talented five-man operation in the NBA. Andre Iguodala, when healthy, is still an amazing swiss army knife, the wing equivalent to what Draymond Green accomplishes as an undersized center.”

Mejia added, “Capela’s ability to impose his will as a physically dominant athlete who is bigger than Green will be a major x-factor. He’s finished on 63 percent of his playoff buckets, right around his regular-season averages. He blocked 18 shots over the five games against Utah and outperformed likely Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. If he’s able to make a significant impact and isn’t taken out by small ball, the Warriors would have no chase than to come back with David West and JaVale McGee, which would help Houston isolate to victimize on the pick-and-roll. That would be a series-changer.”

More numbers strengthening the “adage” above can be seen in the recent meetings between these teams. Even though the Rockets won the regular season series and claimed the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs, the Warriors have won 15 of the past 20 encounters and that includes an 8-3 record at the Toyota Center.

The one common denominator in the wins for Houston was scoring as it averaged 119 points per game and that included a rare 97-96 win in their first round series of the 2016 playoffs. Make a note that Curry sat out that game for Golden State due to an injury.

The total opened 225 for Game 1 and is sitting at 224 as of Sunday afternoon. The Warriors have seen the ‘under’ go 6-4 in the playoffs while the results for the Rockets have been a stalemate (5-5).

Despite the high totals for the pair, the ‘under’ is 13-7 in the last 20 meetings and that includes am 8-2 mark to the low side in their last and only two playoff series.

Golden State opened as a minus-185 favorite (Bet $100 to win $54) to win the series while Houston offers a return of 8/5 odds (Bet $100 to win $160).

The last time the Rockets were in the conference finals came in 2015 when Golden State defeated them in five games. Houston’s lone win occurred when they shot 56 percent from the field, which includes an eye-opening 17-of-32 (53%) from 3-point land. The Warriors only connected on 43 percent of their shots in the loss.

Since Golden State started its championship form that season, the club has gone 3-0 in the conference finals but has never swept one of those series (4-2, 4-3, 4-1). However, bettors looking to get greedy with some Exact Game wagers on the series should note that Golden State hasn’t seen a best-of-seven matchup go longer than five games. The Warriors to win in five games (4-1) brings back a 6/1 return while the 4-0 sweep pays 17/2 (Bet $100 to win 850).

All three of our NBA analysts, including myself, have Golden State winning the series.

The pair will meet again from the Toyota Center on Wednesday for Game 2.

Chris David can be reached at [email protected]

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