The Golden State Warriors move on to the conference semifinals, not bothered for a moment by the Houston Rockets despite the facing elimination stuff. James Harden looked like he’s trying to do it on his own, Dwight Howard played his final game for the team, and a messy, ugly season ends for them without even putting up a fight.
The Rockets begin their summer vacation and it’s not even May. Besides Howard, who’ll opt out and look for someone to give him a max contract (why would anyone do such a thing?), most of the team is staying put. Harden, Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, Clint Capela. But does anyone want to play with Harden anymore? Is there any future to the Rockets with Harden as their number one player? All those dreams and projections on Daryl Morey’s laptop never considered the personality factor. The clash between Harden and Howard. The hard to miss hatred players on this team have for each other, and especially for their two biggest stars.
It’s completely different for the NBA champions. Maybe not everyone likes each other, it’s impossible to have everyone be friends. But the Warriors play like a team. They went into game 5 with the hunger and motivation you usually see in teams that are fighting for their lives in a postseason. Klay Thompson has looked great without Curry (scoring 27 points in game 5) and everything else in the puzzle, from Draymond Green to Andre Iguodala, played their part. For Houston, the puzzle has been broken a long time ago. Just one individual piece doing its own thing, with the others scrambled around it with no direction at all.
The Warriors won game 5 124-81. The game ended as Dwight Howard attempted a three-pointer. The same Howard who said that anyone who doesn’t think the Rockets can win game 5 should stay home. Jason Terry promised a win before the game and ended up scoring zero points. It’s hard to say where all that fire disappeared to the moment the game began. Maybe when they realized they’re just not a good team. It dawned on them in game 4 too, as a great first half turned into a third quarter disaster. This time, it was right off the bat, going down by 17 points in the first quarter. It was clear the Rockets weren’t coming back from that.
The Stephen Curry absence? Didn’t make a difference, not in this series at least. The more days the Warriors have before the next one begins (probably crossing fingers for the Los Angeles Clippers to make things a bit longer, although it looks close to impossible), the closer Curry is to being back on the floor. Rumors are he’s getting better and might start working out on the court next week. The Rockets weren’t a team good enough to take advantage of his absence. One thing might not have anything to do with the other, but Curry’s exit in game 4 was the final nail in the Rockets’ 2015-2016 season coffin. They looked like a lost team after that.
The Warriors move on, more confident than ever. Winning without Curry makes them stronger. They won the last two games by a total of 60 points. Houston just folded, as everyone felt they would. This was nothing like the conference finals from last season, when the series was closer than the five games it took. This time it was five games as well, but against a broken team, without anything to offer but Harden, although in a weird way, he’s part of the reason the Rockets are such a mess, and need to start over from scratch next season.