By Griffin Finch
In this edition of the Western Conference Finals the Houston Rockets who achieved the best record in the NBA lead by MVP candidate James Harden and future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul battled the Golden State Warriors for the right to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. This year the Rockets became best known for their extremely efficient isolation style of play. Head Coach Mike D’Antoni took what he did with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire in Phoenix and turned it up to eleven with a star studded backcourt and shooting from all over the court. The Warriors on the other hand brought their prolific offense best known for its ball movement and the most elite shooting from a single team in NBA history. While Golden State undeniably has more talent on their roster, this series was more so a battle of styles and as one may think ball movement trumped isolation and the Warriors won in game seven in Houston.
The Rockets despite being the home team in this series were in fact the underdog. After seeing how dominant the Warriors had become after Stephen Curry came back combined with some flaws in the Rockets game plan that Utah was able to expose in the previous round, nobody gave the Rockets much of a chance. Most thought that the series would be over in five or six games at most. Give credit where it’s due. The Rockets competed very well and surprised a lot of people being as competitive as they were. They played so well that it could easily be argued that if Chris Paul was available for game seven due to a hamstring injury the Rockets would have won. Even without CP3, Houston was competitive through the first half of game seven and to that point in the series the two teams had been evenly matched. What ultimately undid the Rockets was there inability to hit perimeter shots during a crucial period in the game. From midway through the second quarter to about the same point in the fourth quarter, the Rockets missed all 27 three pointers that were attempted. The odds of that happening are 1 in 72,000. If just one of those were to have fallen it could have opened the floodgates and Houston could have caught fire and put the game away. Unfortunately, their cold spell included the entire third quarter which is when the Warriors play their best basketball in the third quarter and game seven was no exception. It was in that quarter that Houston lost this series.
Golden State was the heavy favorite going into this series and after seeing them dismantle the Rockets in game one it was clear why. It was obvious from the opening tip that isolating James Harden and Chris Paul would not be good enough to beat the champions. From there, adjustments were made and it became a chess match between coaches. In game two Mike D’Antoni had his Rockets integrate more ball movement into their offense. It worked to perfection as the sudden style change caught the Warriors off guard and the Rockets were able to win the game in convincing fashion. However, they were dealing with bona fide winners and Steve Kerr was not about to stand by and let Houston win by 40 again. So he made his adjustments and in game three the Warriors came out and dominated destroying Houston in game three. From there the coaches seemed to have each other figured out and it was up to the players on the court to decide who was the better team. Through the next three and a half games the teams were evenly matched. But the Warriors were the best third quarter team in basketball averaging 30 points in the third. Their ability to maintain an extremely high level of intensity through halftime is remarkable and undoubtedly earned them a fourth trip to the Finals.
Houston has one major job this summer and that is resigning Chris Paul. Luckily the Rockets have acknowledged that it is their number one priority. Outside of that there is not really much they can do unless they decide to clear space and try to sign LeBron James. If they were to do that they would inevitably lose a lot of their depth but they would likely be the favorites to win it all in 2019. The Warriors will go on to face the Cavaliers for the fourth straight year. After seeing the Cavs play all year and through the postseason it’s clear that this will probably be the easiest ring the Warriors have won thus far. LeBron has been getting virtually no help all season long and the Warriors look dominant as ever. I anticipate that the Warriors will win the Finals in a gentleman’s sweep of five games.