For the fourth time in five years, the Golden State Warriors have eliminated the Houston Rockets in the postseason. Regarded as the “must-watch” series in the West, Houston again failed to seize their moment. In contrast, Golden State showed the heart and poise of a champion. Let’s recap the 4-2 series win by the Warriors in this Warriors vs. Rockets second-round matchup.
Series Recap: Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets
Despite this being a semifinals matchup, the victor of the Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets would be crowned as the unofficial winner of the West. This was the fourth meeting in the past five years between these two in the playoffs. After suffering defeat in last year’s conference finals, Houston was set on revenge.
Through the first two games, Golden State dominated with Kevin Durant leading the way. Durant scored 35 and 29 points in the first two games as they sent James Harden and the Rockets back home with a 2-0 deficit. Despite reduced vision, Harden, alongside Chris Paul, defended home court in Games 3 and 4. PJ Tucker was a monster on the boards, and Eric Gordon was lethal from deep. Both games were decided by less than six points, as the Rockets evened the series 2-2.
Game 5 proved to be the series turning point for the Warriors. With 2:11 left in the third quarter, Kevin Durant sank a mid-range jumper but limped awkwardly afterwards, with many assuming the worst. Despite the looks of an Achilles injury, it was determined to be a mild calf strain that would sideline him for the rest of the series. But the positive: it awoke the original core of Golden State, who fought to a Game 5 victory.
Most importantly, it was the breakthrough that Stephen Curry needed. Curry struggled mightily early in the series, especially on the road in Houston. After going scoreless with three fouls in the first half of Game 6, Curry owned the second half. He scored all 33 of his points, including a clutch three-point dagger, which was followed by another three from Klay Thompson. No Kevin Durant? No problem. Houston was sent packing again by the hand of Golden State.
Houston, We Still* Have a Problem
Does this statement sound familiar? “The Houston Rockets were eliminated by the Golden State Warriors.” It should because it happened for the fourth time in five years. The Rockets have made it their obsession to dethrone the Warriors, and the resentment runs deep. It was reported by Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic, that Chris Paul even denied Stephen Curry a practice session.
But at the end of the day, what matters is the results on the court. This was by-and-large the most vulnerable the Warriors have been during this dynasty run. On the opposite end, the Rockets were healthy, having all their core pieces on the floor. At home, in a pivotal elimination game, they needed to step up and seize the moment.
Instead, in a fashion that has become normal, the Rockets folded under pressure. Despite putting up 35 points, Harden had six turnovers and missed five of his free throws. Simply put, he didn’t have the impact on the game that he needed. Chris Paul played a better game overall, but he is not the leader of this team. In the prime moment to take a hold on this series, Harden did not capitalize.
Flashback to Strength In Numbers
No Durant, no problem… as long as the Warriors could step up in an all-around manner. All eyes were on the core of Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. But, more importantly, they needed the contributions from their bench, largely regarded as their weakest link. The Splash Brothers turned back time, Iguodala made five shots from beyond the arc, and Green was stout on the defensive end with four blocks.
However, when Steve Kerr needed to go deep into his rotation, playing 11 players in total, they answered the call. Shaun Livingston scored 11 points, Jonas Jerebko played valuable minutes and when Curry was in foul trouble, Quinn Cook dished out assists. At halftime, the bench had combined for 20 points.
Despite seeing little playing time in the regular season and early in this series, the contributions from the role players cannot be overlooked. Despite being top-heavy with talent, Golden State still uses the phrase “strength in numbers.” During Game 6, undermanned and on the road, that statement rang true.
Again and again, the Rockets have failed to prove that the system upon which they’ve built their roster can get the job done. What they do this offseason might largely depend on what their greatest foe does as well. Whether Durant returns to the Warriors or not, do you break up this team? Paul is 34-years-old and not getting any younger, and no number of regular season MVPs has helped Harden in the postseason.
For the Warriors, they’ll enjoy the extra day or so of rest as they await either the Denver Nuggets or the Portland Trail Blazers. Durant will likely be sidelined to start the conference finals, but he should return at some point in the series. For now, it seems like they have ousted their greatest foe out West, as they march towards their final foe in the East.