Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors

NBA Heat Check: Who has the better backcourt in the Western Conference Finals?

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NBA Heat Check (NBA Illustration)

The top two seeds held serve, as the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors get set to do battle for a trip to the NBA Finals.

The series features a battle between two of the best backcourts in the league, we asked our experts which team has the better backcourt?

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): Golden State Warriors

This shouldn't even be a debate, we're talking about two of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson may go down as one of the best backcourts in NBA history let alone this era.

This is no disrespect to James Harden who in my opinion should win the MVP this season or Chris Paul who will one day no doubt be a Hall of Famer, but what Curry and Thompson provide as a unit offensively trumps what the Rockets duo does.

Thompson is the better more versatile defender out of the four, and Curry is the best offensive weapon. Some would argue that Harden is a better one-on-one player than Curry, but Steph's game has evolved from breaking down defenders and shooting in their faces - but just because he evolved from it doesn't mean he can't hit you with that heartbreaking triple.

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His mere presence on the floor has changed the way coaches defend and how offences space the floor. There are many duplicates of the Warriors offence, the Rockets being one of them but they still don't come close to the original.

Sometimes you don't need numbers, the eye test is enough - Curry and Thompson is the better backcourt in this Western Conference series.

Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): Houston Rockets

The Warriors have been there and done it before, but there's something about the hunger of the Rockets' backcourt that pushes them over the edge for me. Beating the Warriors is literally all they've thought about all season.

James Harden is playing the best basketball of his career and Chris Paul is playing in a system that allows him to pick and choose his spots and take over when needed (see Game 5 vs Utah).

Whilst the duo are as talented as they come, the biggest factor to their success is that Clint Capela has emerged as a devastating force on both ends, allowing them to pick-and-roll you to death and gamble on defence, knowing they have the big man in support.

Klay and Steph are great, but the variety of ways which the Rockets' backcourt can get you is overwhelming - Mid-range? Three-pointers? Layups? Transition? Any way you want it, Harden and Paul can give it to you.

When the tempo slows down and the half-court gets tighter, I like Houston's ability to get buckets in an ugly game.

Don't sleep on their defence either - Harden (2.3) and Paul (2.1) rank second and fifth in the playoffs for steals, both up on their regular season averages. On top of that, nobody in the post-season has had more deflections than Harden (38) and Paul (37).

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Houston Rockets

Don't get me wrong, Steph and Klay haven't really missed a beat since Curry's return in Game 2 of the West semifinals, but Harden and Paul have been on another level for the entire year.

While many questioned if a backcourt of two ball-dominant guards would work, it soon became evident that Harden is what Paul had been missing his whole career and vice versa. Houston is 8-2 this postseason, and we still have not seen both deliver a signature performance on the same night.

Harden and Paul each provide a unique balance of scoring and playmaking - the duo have combined to deliver three 40-point performances so far this postseason, with Paul's big game (41 points, 10 assists, 0 turnovers) coming most recently in the Rockets' closeout win of the Utah Jazz. Harden eclipsed the 40-point mark in Game 1 of the first and second rounds, imposing his will early.

Paul has also dished out six or more assists in all but two of Houston's playoff games this year, while Harden has done so in all but three. Let's not forget, Harden is the guy that made headlines earlier in the year by becoming the only player in NBA history to record a triple-double while scoring 60 points. It's hard to pick against that.

Perhaps the biggest reason to choose the Rockets duo is their ability to make others better. The opportunities Paul and Harden have created for Clint Capela have directly contributed to his continual development in his fourth season.

On any given night, players like PJ Tucker, Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green could have a big game offensively as a result of the situations Paul and Harden put them in.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Golden State Warriors

Because he's been doing it for so long, it's easy to take Stephen Curry for granted.

Even though the Warriors have three other All-Stars on their roster in Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, they were 14.3 points per 100 possessions worse offensively when Curry wasn't on the court during the regular season. It resulted in the Warriors outscoring opponents by a total of 486 points when he was in the lineup (1,631 minutes) versus only four points when he was on the bench (2,315).

It's an incredible margin that speaks to how valuable Curry is. His per game numbers speak for themselves - few players score as frequency and as efficiently as he does - but his gravity is what creates the sort of defensive breakdowns that turn the Warriors into the scariest offensive team in the NBA when he's on the court.

While Chris Paul and James Harden force defenses to make similar pick-your-poison decisions, they aren't quite as versatile as Curry, who is just as capable of scoring off of screens as he is in pick-and-rolls and isolation when healthy.

Pairing Curry with arguable the second-best 3-point shooter in NBA history gives the Warriors the best backcourt in the league. Thompson complements Curry perfectly on offense and makes up for his weaknesses on defense by matching up with the opposing team's best guard. He's a big reason why Harden has struggled against the Warriors in the past, which is why this won't be much of a debate if he has success against him once again in the Western Conference Finals.

Jordan Greer (@jordangreer42): Golden State Warriors

James Harden absolutely deserves the 2017-18 MVP award, and Chris Paul is undoubtedly one of the best point guards the league has ever seen. But their biggest strength may also be their biggest problem against the Warriors.

During the regular season, Harden and Paul were two of the top five players in terms of isolation possessions used per game, and both scored at an unbelievably high level in those situations. However, Paul's isolation possessions have already dropped in the playoffs, and Harden's efficiency is way down. Against Golden State's elite defense, no team can be a one-trick pony.

That might be the forgotten element ahead of this series - Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson know how to defend these guys and challenge their scoring opportunities. Consider this: Harden took six total free throws in two games against the Warriors this season, and Klay Thompson hasn't committed a foul on Harden that resulted in free throws since 2016. Curry has also fared well against Paul historically, going 17-10 against CP3 in their regular season matchups.

Offensively, Thompson is lethal in transition and on spot-up chances. Curry is magician in isolation and pick-and-rolls. The backcourt duo can destroy opponents in so many different ways, and while Houston's defense has been routinely underrated, the Rockets haven't seen a fully formed "Hamptons Five" lineup put in front of them.

It's a close call, but give me the guys with the rings. (And I'll also take Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala while I'm shopping in this aisle.)

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