Take a breath, because on Friday or Sunday (if necessary), we might just be witnessing the final interaction between the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors as they are presently assembled.
So, let’s just take a second to enjoy this rivalry for a moment.
The weaving storylines: from two former OKC-stars-turned-MVPs facing off, to the Chris Paul-Draymond Green barking matches, and the who-is-the-best-stocky-defensive-good-shooting-two-guard-in-the-series storyline, on top of the referee receipts fiasco after Game 1, the injury to Kevin Durant in Game 5, and the what’s-wrong-with-Stephen Curry questions for most of the series. That’s without mentioning tough shot after tough shot. It all makes for excellent viewing.
Throughout the five games so far, the Warriors have scored 552 and the Rockets have put in 546. Essentially, we are two three-pointers away from Houson being up 3-2 and heading back to the Toyota Center.
After last year’s seven-game slobberknocker in the Conference Finals, which most pundits felt was the true NBA Finals in 2018, this year has seen the match-up arrive one round earlier. Arguably, this will create a better chance for an upset in the next round, because these top two titans in the West are knocking seven bells out of each other and there might not be much left of either team once this series is over.
With Golden State’s lack of depth, the starting five of Andre Iguodala, Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson and Green is scoring 74.6% of the points, and the latter four are averaging more than 40 minutes per game.
That is what is needed to push past a Rockets team that is equally reliant on its starting unit to score the ball: James Harden, Paul, Clint Capela, PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon contribute 80.2% of Houston’s points.
It seems crazy that two teams with the taglines #StrengthInNumbers and #RunAsOne seem to be using their benches at such low rates, but the NBA Playoffs is where the stars come out, and this series is packed full of them.
How many of them will be in this position again next year? You got me.
It looks like Durant is joining the
Knicks Clippers Suns [insert latest rumor here] next year, and nobody quite knows what is in Klay Thompson’s head as he enters Free Agency. DeMarcus Cousins is injured again but he proved himself worthy of a contract that the Warriors probably can’t afford, so his assumed exit is still likely to go ahead.
And then, what is Golden State left with? A once-elite point guard that looks like he has reached the peak of his potential and might now be starting his descent; a short, hothead of a power forward who’s offensive skill has always lacked; and a few bits and pieces from the glory years (shout out to the shell of Shaun Livingston). The Golden State reign appears to be coming to a close.
So does that mean the door is still open for Houston after this year? Perhaps. But with Paul scraping everything he can from the bottom of his massively contracted barrel to remain a top four player on his own team in this series, and Capela reduced to playing the minutes of a sixth or seventh player in the rotation, it looks like the Rockets might be left with an elite scoring shooting guard who struggles to play defense during the regular season, and that’s about it.
This is why we should make the most of what we are witnessing right now in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Warriors are one of the best three dynasties of all time, and the Rockets are a historically great team. But if Golden State beats Houston in this series, we could be witnessing the end of one of the most entertaining three-year rivalries in a long time, which produced one all-time great seven-game series last season, and maybe (hopefully) another one this year.
So before we tune in to Game 6 on Friday, join me: take a deep breath and a moment to appreciate the basketball greatness that is about to unfold. We might not see it again.
Feature photo – Joe Murphy / Getty Images / USAToday / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington