Blake Griffin

Warriors went 4-0 against Rockets, but they haven’t faced *these* Rockets yet

Last night seemed like it was going normally.

  • After talking about the Warriors on YSTL, I drove home, took the dog out, and sat on the couch.
  • My wife wanted to watch “Survivor” from the night before.
  • I asked if we could watch the last quarter and a half of Rockets/Clippers first.
  • My wife let out a barely audible sigh and said “OK.”
  • The Clippers were ahead by a ton and fouling Dwight Howard intentionally.
  • My wife started getting antsy.
  • I agreed to put on “Survivor.”
  • I watched my phone, mouth agape as “J. Smith makes 25-foot jump shot” kept appearing on my phone.
  • I convinced my wife to watch the last six minutes of the fourth quarter.
  • The Clippers collapsed like no playoff team I’ve seen since Portland in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals.

It was amazing.

In the span of 10 minutes, we went from expecting to see the Warriors play on Sunday at 12:30 pm in Oakland (either Game 7 against Memphis or Game 1 vs. L.A.), to the whole thing getting flipped upside down by Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, Dwight Howard and Jason Terry. The Clippers certainly helped, with their lame defense and worse three-point attempts, along with Blake Griffin going from looking like the best player on the planet … to getting his shots swatted away by Howard and J-Smoove.

James Harden — who’s still getting over the flu — was awful. But Harden’s supporting cast, supposedly the reason why he deserved the MVP over Stephen Curry (even according to his own GM, the guy who brought in those players), was brilliant. So the Rockets get a Game 7 at home on Sunday, against a franchise that has never been to the Conference Finals and is coming off a 12-point home loss in a game they led by 19 in the third quarter.

Could things be going any better for the Warriors?

The Spurs are gone. Kevin Love is gone. Los Angeles, which represents the most volatile matchup in the league for Golden State and appeared to be hitting its stride, is faced with an extraordinarily difficult task in Houston. And the Rockets? The Warriors had their way with those jokers in a four-game sweep of their season series.

Average score: Warriors 115, Rockets 100

This is a very presumptuous article I’m writing, because the Warriors still have business to take care of against a tough and proud Grizzlies team. Also, the Clippers could very well win in Houston. But quite frankly (Jim Barnett voice), there are just too danged many sports blogs and mainstream sports sites out there. If I wait to write this story, someone else will beat me to it.

So let’s assume the Rockets win Game 7.

No sweat, right? The Warriors still have home court, and if they win tonight in Memphis, they’ll have a couple extra days off.

But these aren’t the same Rockets

The Rockets and Warriors actually share a lot of similarities. Houston also likes to shoot threes. A lot of threes. The Rockets were more trey-happy during the regular season than the Warriors, attempting 32.7 per game while the Warriors attempted *only* 27.0 (and Houston made just 0.6 more per game than Golden State). That’s changed a bit in the playoffs, with the Warriors taking (29.7) and making (11.1) more threes per game than any other team.

They both have MVP-caliber guards who can score and distribute, although Curry and Harden accomplish those tasks in vastly different ways. They each have true centers who can affect a game defensively. Both teams are fairly well-stocked with long-limbed wing players.

But the Warriors have effectively been the same team throughout the season, while the Rockets are ever-changing. As a result, Golden State has not faced this particular Rockets team.

— Donatas Motiejunas played in all four games against the Warriors this season. He’s out for the playoffs with a back injury.

— Patrick Beverley (one of the league’s great pests, a point guard who’s been known to defend Curry as well as anyone) missed the first game against Golden State, but played in the next three. He’s out for the playoffs with a wrist injury.

— Terrence Jones scored 16 points off the bench last night. He should’ve had a breakout season this year, but instead he suffered a bunch of weird injuries (including nerve damage in his leg and a collapsed lung). That’s why they signed Josh Smith. Jones missed all four games against Golden State.

— Smith was phenomenal last night. He’s always reminded me of a lankier Nick Van Exel, a smooth lefty who you can’t fully trust but is borderline unstoppable when he gets it going. He played in the last two Rockets losses to the Warriors, but only averaged 15.5 mpg. He had 19 points (four threes) in 26 minutes last night.

— Like Smith, both Howard and Brewer (as a member of the Rockets) only played against the Warriors twice: the 131-106 loss to Golden State in Houston on Jan. 17 and the 126-113 loss in Oakland on Jan. 21. I was in New York that night.

I was pretty sure of myself that night. The Rockets wanted nothing more than to avoid the season sweep, but the Warriors were taking a 24-point lead into the fourth quarter when I arrived at Finnerty’s. If the Rockets looked that bad in four games against a team in their conference, what chance did they have of winning a title?

Now I’m not so sure, just because the Warriors haven’t gone up against this particular mix of Rockets. And also because they bring a different kind of volatility. The Warriors and Rockets don’t exactly like each other, especially after Harden was caught saying “they ain’t even that good” before losing to the Warriors for a third time.

A rivalry could easily explode in a Rockets/Warriors Western Conference Finals to the point where the level of dislike is comparable to Clippers/Warriors. And since there are many more Rockets fans than Clippers fans, the trash talking on social media would be ridiculous if these teams ended up meeting. Not that it matters, but it’ll be an interesting subplot after Curry beat out Harden for MVP (especially with Draymond Green’s mom around).

But the volatility in this case comes from the unknown. The Warriors would still hold a tremendous advantage without Beverley around to bother Curry. And Klay Thompson seems to relish his meetings against Houston’s team MVP. However, once Harden gets better, it’s hard to confidently know what a playoff rotation with Trevor Ariza, Howard, Smith, Terry, Brewer and Jones is capable of, let alone declare that they “ain’t even that good.” Here’s what we do know: it’s going to be an interesting weekend.

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