NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

Fred Faour: 5 quick thoughts on the Warriors' Game 3 rout of the Rockets

Steph Curry did not do much in the first two games, but he had plenty reason to smile Sunday night. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Warriors took a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals with a 126-85 rout of the Rockets on Sunday night. None of the three games have been close. All three games have been decided relatively early, and the fourth quarter has been meaningless. (Hey, at least it ended in time to watch the Astros' 3-1 win over the Indians). The Rockets will look to do what they did after their bad Game 1 loss and bounce back to even the series. First however, a look at Game 3:

  1. When it was decided: The Rockets struggled in the first half and it proved costly. They managed to hang around early, but several missed layups and poor shooting led to a 11-point deficit (54-43) at halftime. The Warriors weren’t great, either, including 4 of 18 on 3s. But the Rockets scuttled along at 34.9 percent from the field and just 26.7 percent on 3s, and the real problem was nine turnovers to just four for the Warriors. The third quarter started with a 10-0 Warriors run that upped the lead to 21, and it eventually would get as high as 28. The Warriors outscored the Rockets 34-24 in the third quarter and that was that; the fourth quarter was basically garbage time.

  2. Still no answer for Durant: Kevin Durant has been the best player in this series, and he was solid again Sunday night. He scored 25 on 9 of 19 shooting and came up with several clutch plays when the game was still in doubt. The Rockets have not slowed him down yet, and until they figure something out, he will continue to be a handful.

  3. Curry up: Steph Curry has not been good in this series, and he was not great in the first half, starting just 2 for 13. But he cranked it up in the third quarter, starting with mostly layups and backdoor cuts, then he started hitting 3s, and the game just got ugly. He would finish with 35. If the Warriors are going to get great performances out of Durant and Curry, the Rockets have little chance.

  4. Meanwhile, the Rockets stars…: Chris Paul hit a few shots in the second half, but overall he was well below average and finished with 13 points on just 5 of 16 shooting. James Harden was not much better with 20 points. He was 1 of 5 on 3s when it counted, and 2 of 6 overall. The Rockets simply can’t compete unless at least one of those two plays outstanding basketball.

  5. The real killer: Turnovers. The Rockets finished with 19 to just eight for the Warriors, and Golden State converted those into 24 points. The turnover battle has been key in all three games. Both teams feed off the easy baskets and it helps get their offenses going. The Rockets did not protect the basketball, and it came back to haunt them.

The bottom line: You basically saw a repeat of Game 1, and now the Rockets will need a repeat of Game 2 to avoid going down 3-1, which would seem insurmountable. They need to clean up the turnovers and get better games from Paul and Harden, but another effort like Sunday will help hasten the end of the season.



 

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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