The Golden State Warriors? They’ve been on this course, making the conference finals, all season long. The Houston Rockets? It’s been a rockier road for them as well. Now it’s time to try and do the impossible, again.
Because beating the Warriors in a series seems exactly that. They’ve lost twice in 10 playoff games, and it seems that the one time a team made an adjustment that rattled them for a short while, it didn’t take long for Steve Kerr, a rookie head coach, to find an answer. The moment that shift was made, Stephen Curry was free again to knock down frustrating three pointers and the Warriors cruised with three wins to the franchise’s first conference finals since 1976.
The Rockets won three in a row as well, but the series they came out of, playing the Los Angeles Clippers, had a more wild feeling to it. Less about adjustments and coaching strategies. More about making shots and simply carrying momentum from stretch to stretch. Kevin McHale didn’t out coach Doc Rivers. He won because his mistakes didn’t turn out to be that costly.
We’ve written a number of times that regular season has nothing to do with the playoffs, but not always. The Warriors swept the Rockets in the regular season, but not just that. They’re the team that finished with the best net rating in the league, while leading or finishing second when it came to offensive and defensive efficiency. They shoot better from the field and from beyond the arc. All the factors that quite often decide a game and a series.
James Harden, for the first time in his career, is in the leading role for a team going this deep into the playoff. The same can be said for Stephen Curry, but there’s always a sense that it’s more about a team with the Warriors than it is for the Rockets. Maybe the key factors to the great comeback in the final three games for the Rockets, will change that perception.
Josh Smith became a starter and important player once again. Terrence Jones can’t be relied upon when the only thing he can give the team is occasional shooting. Smith has been responsible with his shots and doing some great things on defense. You can’t ask anything more from him. Dwight Howard has been here before, this time not having a team built around him. Corey Brewer has been surprising off the bench. The Rockets are finding resources they left untapped during the regular season.
And yet it might not be enough. Not just because of how good defensively the Warriors are, or their size, or their ability to get something out of their bench (which hasn’t been great in the postseason). There’s simply nothing a team can do once Curry and Thompson get going. If the Rockets manage to solve that equation for more than a game or two, then they have a shot.