When it became clear that the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets would be facing off in the Western Conference Finals, analysts and fans alike predicted this would be the toughest challenge for the Warriors since Kevin Durant joined the team.
With the series going all the way to a decisive seventh game in Houston before Golden State closed it out, the above presumption was proven correct.
The series was back-and-forth for much of the time, with both teams blowing out the other at least once.
In the end, this all sets up to Golden State v. the Cleveland Cavaliers for a fourth straight year. How did we get here, and what could the Rockets have done differently?
Post-Series Analysis: Golden State Warriors Defeat Houston Rockets in Seven Games
At times in the series, it seemed as if the Dubs were content to scrap their regular offense in favor of a stagnant Durant isolation in the post. Some of this was the Rockets outstanding and physical defense, but it also seemed to be a set decision.
While Game 1 saw Durant efficiently score 37 points and lead the Warriors to victory, the overall stagnation hurt the Warriors in the long run with absolute clunkers at the end of Games 4&5.
Durant got his points, but the rest of the team struggled.
Games 6&7 saw the Rockets build big leads in the first halves of both, but huge third quarters by Golden State saw them successfully close out the must-win games.
In the second half of Game 6, the Warriors outscored Houston 64-25. Game 7 was more of the same: Warriors 58, Rockets 38.
The Warriors were able to win with team play even with a shortened rotation after the Andre Iguodala injury.
When the Warriors play with the ball primarily in Curry’s hands, Durant is still able to get his points, as illustrated by his scoring average of 28.5 points in the last two games.
However, the offensive change really helped Curry find his game. He averaged 28 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists with 12 threes in the last two games after only making 15 threes in the first five.
The Warriors go as Curry goes, and he seems to be finding his rhythm heading into the Finals.
This one hurts for Houston.
All season you have focused on one goal: beating the Warriors. You win 65 games and get homecourt advantage for a potential Game 7, which then happens, but you still come up short.
What went wrong?
The Rockets were without Chris Paul in Games 6 & 7 after he suffered a hamstring at the tail-end of Game 5.
Paul was paramount in Houston’s wins in Games 4 & 5, calmly handling the rock and hitting clutch contested shots throughout. He even got to shimmy on Steph, once.
Harden was constantly looking to attack mismatches but would often get the matchup he wanted with less than 10 seconds on the shot clock, forcing inefficient looks. His three-point shot was AWOL (24.4 percent) and he did not get the regular season respect from the refs.
The counting numbers were there, but he seemed to be gassed late in the series (more on this in a second).
Gordon had a monster impact on both ends of the court in this series, hitting timely shots and switching onto any of the Steph-Durant-Klay Thompson triumvirate.
Sneaker king P.J. Tucker had an incredible series as well, defending his tail off and constantly fighting for offensive rebounds. He also made 45 percent of his three’s, almost all of which came from the corners.
The Rockets’ undoing, especially in Game 7, was their tired legs. They shot 7-of-44 from three as a team, including an impossible 27 straight misses.
If only a handful of threes in that extended drought go down, it is a totally different ballgame.
After making Durant work for everything he got, Trevor Ariza could not buy a bucket in the final game, finishing 0-of-12. Harden and Gordon were 2-of-13 and 2-of-12 from three, respectively.
Some people will probably argue that Coach Mike D’Antoni could have avoided this fatigue by lengthening his rotation, but who was he supposed to play?
Gerald Green, Ryan Anderson and Joe Johnson can all get buckets, but they (especially the last two) are sieves on the defensive end. If D’Antoni had played more guys, there is a strong possibility Houston would not have even been in the series.
The Rockets stuck to their game-plan for most of the series: switch everything on defense and do not leave shooters open. They held Golden State under 100 points twice and under 110 four times.
Tucker, Ariza, Paul, Gordon and even Clint Capela did a decent job guarding anyone out on the perimeter.
Houston forced the Warriors into a steady stream of turnovers in each of their three wins.
Aside from switching, the Rockets did a great job making Curry and Durant initiate the offense all the way back at halfcourt with not much room to operate.
The Rockets threw everything they had at the defending champs, but it ended up not being enough. With a healthy Paul, maybe we are looking at a different result, but the what-if game does not count as analysis.
The Warriors out-talented their way past a 65-win Rocket team.
Golden State constantly came out slowly and let Houston build a lead early before using third-quarter supernovas to get back in games.
The Dubs, at times, seemed unbothered by the high stakes and the hungry Rockets team. This may have been their supreme confidence (or even pride/arrogance) filtering into the games.
Despite the Paul injury, the Rocket fought until the bitter end. It may not be much consolation, but the Houston team was impressive throughout the series.
In the end, the Warriors put the ball in the hands of their most important player, and that made all the difference.
OAKLAND, CA – JUNE 12: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors reacts against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 12, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)