Nick Wright reveals why it’s critical the Houston Rockets win Game 1 against Golden State

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In his preview of game one of 2018 Western Conference Finals, Nick Wright explains to Cris Carter and Jenna Wolfe the importance of the Houston Rockets setting the tone for the series and winning Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors.

- How important is it for the Rockets to get off on the right foot and win game one against the Warriors?

- Critically, wildly important. I-- I have picked the Rockets to win this series for the last few months. I've said, I believe the Rockets are the best team in the NBA. I think that their 50 and 5 record with Harden, CP3, and Capela playing is remarkable. I think the 65 wins matter.

But almost-- almost, all of that goes out the window if you lose game one. You lose game one, you might as well have won 55 games. Because you're given home court to Golden State and more critically than giving home court to Golden State, you are giving them the mental edge in the series where your season is on the line in game two.

So while I bel-- I'm not going to call it a must-win where if they don't win, the series is over. But it's as close to a must-win in my eyes for Houston as game one can be. I think Golden State could win the series. While losing game one, I think it is very hard to see a path for Houston to win the series if they lose game one.

CRIS CARTER: Yeah. And there's no comparison in game one in the East and what Boston, the pressure they have, which is real, compared to the pressure that Houston has as the number one seed, winning 65 games because of-- Boston, man-- you know what Boston's looking forward to? This young team with the two stars they have. That's what they're looking forward to.

So regardless of what happens in game number one, regardless of what happens in game number two, but in Houston, it could be the-- they could be in a must-win situation in game number two. 65 wins totally out. Home court advantage already lost.

And I believe the wildcard is Steve Kerr. The reason why he keeps talking about these championships? Because that's what he's telling to the team. And that's an actual strategy. Just like playing defense. Just like how they're going to move the ball. And the strategy is, in crunch time, we have this feeling of winning more than they do. Their coach, nothing but disappointment. Chris Paul, first time being in a final. James Harden has been to a final but is not a champion.

So I heard Steve Kerr. And I believe that is the constant theme that Golden State is going to have as they go through this series, even if they were to get behind a game or two. They're trying to rely on their championship pedigree and their championship experience.

- And Golden State has seen, in the toughest series they've ever had other than the finals-- they've been down 3-1 in a series and came back. Everyone pokes is-- oh, you blew a 3-1 lead in the finals, and they did. But that was after overcoming a 3-1 lead. And that was before they added Kevin Durant. That was against Kevin Durant.

CRIS CARTER: But Kevin Durant has the experience on the other side too.

NICK WRIGHT: Exactly right. This-- the other subtext of this series, to me, is fair or not as brilliant. And I don't use that word lightly. As brilliant as James Harden has been in the last four regular seasons. This series will be a referendum on him, on his style, and on him as a champion level player.

CRIS CARTER: A question for you. Is it similar to what KD-- when he makes a decision, when they get in the finals last year against LeBron, is it similar to that-- where Harden is?

- Listen, I would say it's similar in that, you're going to get the brunt of the blame if you don't pull it off. You are-- but the difference is, people didn't doubt. How good is KD really? And I still hear that with Harden. Harden's gonna win the MVP and there is still a segment of NBA fans that feel like this guy does it through bait and switch. He does it by tricking the refs. He does it with herky-jerky stuff. He does it with not just raw great basketball skill. Now I don't subscribe to that. I think he's a brilliant passer. I think he's one of the best step-back shooters I've ever seen. And I think his ability to draw fouls is a skill.

CRIS CARTER: Yes.

- But if Harden is not brilliant in this series, the Rockets can't win. And if he's mediocre in this series, they can't keep it close. And that will-- if he's not great in this series, C and Jenna, it-- it won't matter what he does in any regular season moving forward. He will never be in the MVP discussion again because people will hold this against him. Like if people say OK, yeah, but who cares. Like this is-- fair or not-- and I don't know if it's totally fair, will be a referendum on James Harden.

JENNA WOLFE: You say that you still feel that the Rockets can beat the Warriors-- if Harden plays great.

- Yes.

- You have to beat them four times. Like you have to be great, really, really great to combat those four guys in the Warriors line-up four different times. And game one, you think that can give them enough confidence? Because this is a Warriors team that you don't want to give them any momentum because you know what they can do with it.

- Absolutely. I-- I-- though, it's why I think game one is so important. But why do I think James Harden can be great over the course of the series? Because I've seen him be great over the course of four years. I've seen him be that statistically the best player in the league this year. I believe in him. Maybe I'll look foolish for it. I believe in Chris Paul. And I think Clint Capela is one of the more underrated players in the league.