Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors
Golden State wins: 4-3
When the Rockets edged away with a close game five win, they won the battle, but in losing Chris Paul for the rest of the series, they lost the war. I’m not saying that they definitely would have won if he was active, Golden State was on another level in game six, but I think they would have had a puncher’s chance in game seven. Chris Paul brings a different type of attitude to the Rockets that James Harden simply doesn’t provide, grit. Harden is a great offensive player, especially in Mike D’Antoni’s isolation heavy system, but while he can carry his team, he doesn’t lift them.
Without Paul, the Rockets shot out to early leads in both game six and game seven, only to see those advantages dissipate over the second half as Golden State began to fire on all cylinders while Houston weakened down the stretch. Remember game six? The blow out twenty-nine point Warriors win. Yeah, Houston put up thirty-nine points in the first quarter, many on tough, contested isolations for Harden. The Rockets were up by seventeen after only twelve minutes of play, but it came at too high a cost. Over the final three quarters, Houston could only muster twenty-two, sixteen, and nine points, respectively. The logic and strategy from Golden State were clear. Without Paul in the game to share the load, Harden would shoulder too much of the burden, wearing down and becoming vulnerable at both ends of the court. That’s exactly what happened, and Golden State simply waited, then pressed their advantage against a gassed Rockets team that just kept heaving up bad looks. Game four was more of the same, with the Rockets out-scoring Golden State in the first two quarters, only to come crashing back down in the second half, as the Warriors won the third in commanding fashion, thirty-three to fifteen. While the game would be somewhat close in the fourth quarter, Houston’s fatigue led to a horrific seven for forty-four performance from beyond the arc and a seemingly impossible twenty-eight consecutive misses from downtown. You can’t beat the Warriors that way. Not when Steph Curry this as many threes as the entire Rockets roster combined. On almost fifty percent shooting.
Let’s be clear here. The Rockets went down swinging, and gave the defending champs all they could handle. They should be looking for some upgrades and some fine-tuning to cement themselves as the Warriors chief rivals in the West for the next few years. But they wouldn’t have gone up three to two if Andre Igoudala had been healthy. The veteran’s presence was sorely missed by the Warriors, as was his energy and perimeter defense. They’ll be looking for him to get healthy in the run up to the Finals, starting Thursday. He’s a huge part of the Warriors equation, even if his stats rarely jump off the page. That’s how you become a Finals MVP for playing defense.
The Warriors will have a few days off to get healthy before starting up their fourth consecutive Finals appearance against the Cavaliers. It’s the only time the same two teams have faced off four years straight in NBA history. It’s never happened in the NHL, NFL, or MLB, either.
We’re looking at history, folks, but if you’re focusing on the LeBron vs MJ debate, you’re missing the real show.
Image source: USA Today