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We waited all year…for that?

The Houston Rockets are still picking themselves up from their own floor after Golden State mopped the Toyota Center with their withered corpses. What looked to be like a genuinely interesting dogfight in the first half turned out to be a 119-106 squash. I blinked and said, “Wow this game is close…oh wait…the Warriors are up by 10…oh god it’s over.” That game was dusted in the last six minutes of the fourth, and strangely it never really felt like Houston had a chance.

I’ve been harping on coaching throughout the playoffs because we’ve had a lot of really bad coaching getting pancaked by great play calling and team management skill sets. And I’d be more willing to give Mike d’Antoni a break if the whole Houston franchise hadn’t been screaming from the hilltops that they can’t stop dreaming about playing the Warriors in these playoffs. From Darryl Morey down to the guy who runs the water, it’s been the club’s mantra.

Harden was his usual brilliant self, and I mean that in a good way and a bad way. He scored 41 points and chipped in 7 assists. At one point in the game, he had been involved in 23 straight points for his team. But you could feel him coming unglued. The Rockets supporting cast grew stagnant, almost nervous. Even Harden himself seemed to run out of gas, a narrative that has become all too familiar in the playoffs.

My preview about this whole series essentially boiled down to Klay Thompson’s defence and who Kerr would dispatch him on. I made it clear then (and it’s worth repeating) that Thompson was never intended to lock down neither Harden nor Chris Paul. At times in Game 1, he seemed completely outmatched by CP3, the guy he was assigned for most of the game. Paul scored 21 points and added 11 rebounds but only 3 assists, a weird but not unexpected stat line.

It wasn’t even Thompson’s defence that was the standout component of what reduced Houston. It was Houston’s own game plan! It was just iso after iso after iso. They ran out of time on the shot clock multiple times, which is embarrassing in its own right. How does that even happen with a team like this?

Houston took 85 field goals and the combination of James Harden and a suddenly trigger happy Eric Gordon accounted for 37 of them. The crazy part? Houston didn’t even have that bad of a game statistically. Their 45.9 shooting percentage and 35.1 three point percentage are around their regular season marks. They were even 3.4 points of their 112.4 point scoring average.

When Harden couldn’t find a shot, he was coughing up bad passes or putting his teammates in impossibly, low percentage opportunities with zero time left on the clock. In other words, it was a bloody mess.

For their part, Kevin Durant and the Warriors were their calm, collected, “been here, done that, won rings” selves. Durant had 37 points off of 14-of-27 shooting, while Klay was a force with 28 points of his own. The Warriors also didn’t seem to miss early on with an absurd clip of 52.5 percent from the field and 39.4 from long range.

Perhaps the best way to describe it the old boxing analogy. They took some big hits, never wavered in the face of adversity and were fully prepared to go the distance when their opponent could only last 10 rounds. Houston was dogging it halfway through the fourth quarter, and Golden State didn’t even need critical knockout blows to keel their opponents to a knee. They just chipped away as they usually did.

Saying that the Rockets petered is also reductive in a sense, because they had their mental edge wiped out when they saw Golden State’s defensive sets. Igoudala (who is now sentient apparently), Thompson and Green were always stretching out to block passing lanes while the rest of the Warriors waited to see what Harden was going to do. Beyond that, it’s like they knew what he was trying to create and just took it away from him.

I can’t analogize that shot clock running out any better than by calling it the football equivalent of a coverage sack. The Warriors stuffed big bodies in the lanes to deter Harden, and then eliminated his other viable options. It was unreal, defensive brilliance.

They showed up prepared, executed and that was that. This gives the Warriors all the credit they deserve, but what in the flaming hell is Houston’s excuse? The Warriors ran familiar sets, hit familiar shots and did what they always do. The Rockets had no defensive answer, which is fine because they’re not that kind of team, but they had absolutely no clue how to penetrate their defence. It’s like they just thought that whatever they’ve been doing against everyone else would work. Or that they haven’t been watching the Warriors roll through the playoffs these past two years.

No excuse is good enough. It’s crazy to even say this, but I gave the Rockets too much credit. Golden State winning in 6 at +300 was my optimal choice, but now I’m trying to get in on the sweep.

It’s not too late. If you’re looking to make a daring bet on the NBA playoffs, that has an absurd probability of actually happening, the Golden State Warriors sweeping the Rockets is sitting right there at +350 odds.

What in Mike D’Antoni’s entire career as a coach suggests that he has the tactical genius or the sheer motivational capabilities to get his team over the hump. In the last ten seasons, he’s won three rounds in the playoffs… and two of those have come this year!

You can’t get rid of these Warriors. You’re aware that they can stretch out a lead before you even realize it, or eat up a deficit like they just stumbled upon a tin of Pringles you had stashed away for a rainy day. It’s too easy for these guys. We just expected Houston to be the one team that could potentially give the defending champs a real run for their money. That’s what they had promised us by thriving during the regular season as the best team around, while seemingly shedding ghosts of playoff pasts in earlier rounds.

Nope. This is partly why Golden State is amongst the greatest teams ever assembled. But there’s a lot of blame on Houston being so unprepared for a war that they knew was going to be uphill in the first place. Hopefully they show up and make this a series, and I have to walk back a lot of these strong comments. Just in case, I’m doubling down on the Warriors cracking out those brooms.

Next Game: Golden State +1.5 over Houston (Wed, May 16th)

Yes, the Warriors are actually underdogs in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals! Bet it at!

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