Everyone is treating the Western conference finals as a series that’s as good as over. Maybe that’s the only way to motivate the Houston Rockets as they head into game 4 trailing 3-0 against the Golden State Warriors and especially Stephen Curry, who seems to be playing perfect basketball at the moment.
Wins and games don’t get more dominant than the 35-point victory in game 3 for the Warriors, as Curry rained down 40 points on the Rockets, somehow remaining wide open again and again while Dwight Howard, who spoke about how everyone, including him, stopped competing very early on in the contest which resulted in the humiliating finish.
All eyes will be on how James Harden reacts. After two games of pretty much matching Curry shot for shot, Harden shut off like the rest of his team. He finished with just 3-of-16 from the field while getting 11 shots from the line weren’t enough to help him have a productive scoring day. Even if one win won’t do anything but bring back a little bit of respectability to him and his team, it’s something worth fighting for.
Maybe getting swept isn’t the end of the world. The Memphis Grizzlies lost in four games to the San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals in 2013, and it didn’t seem to shake up the organization. On the other hand, it didn’t push the team into a new realm of success. The Rockets don’t have much to gain by giving up now, even if the summer vacation is going to start before the beginning of June no matter what they do.
As for actual basketball, the Warriors made very few mistakes in their most recent win. They stopped gambling on defense, or at least basing their entire approach on steals and turnovers. They simply stayed with their players, worked hard around screens and quickly frustrated the Rockets into taking bad shots with plenty of time left on the clock. So good they make the other team give up. That’s always a good sign.
Howard can win his individual battles against Andrew Bogut, but it can’t look like he’s alone out there, especially on defense. Kevin McHale, hasn’t been a huge tactical influence on his players over the last few years, but if there’s one thing he can pass on to them is that there’s no reason to trap players in plays that don’t call for the double team or help. The Rockets gave up too many easy first half points that way, not to mention the mess it looked like from the side as they were scrambling to somehow form a defensive stand in transition.
The Warriors might just be too good, and finishing this series in a sweep will be another indication that this team isn’t just special, it might be historically good. But the Rockets, who have lost on all seven occasions to the Warriors this season, need to find something that’s beyond adjustments and regular game preparations to come out good or at least with a little bit of respect from this series. It has something to do with heart, or with simply not dissolving into nothingness once the game seems to be getting away from them, especially in front of their home fans.