About a week ago, GSoM had a “Panic Meter” poll, gauging DubNation’s nervousness about the Golden State Warriors trailing 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals to the Houston Rockets. My response to the 1-to-10 scale was this:
What was Tom Brady’s panic level at halftime vs Atlanta in the Super Bowl? I’m gonna say a 1: tested champions (and also action movie stars) never panic in crisis. But it sucks to be one game from death. Chris Paul looked super hurt and James Harden is struggling. Game 5 was the Rockets final punch if CP3 is down.
-Me, being Gold-blooded
I really felt the Warriors were entering into classic, “Bad-Ass antihero in a cheesy action flick” territory. On cue, they dramatically came back and eventually drowned the Rockets’ dreams in Game 7’s 101-92 victory in Houston.
Join me for an in-depth look at how they got the job done against a game, but thoroughly exhausted Houston team. But, this time, let’s do it with the backdrop of some epic one liners from great action movies to honor just how compelling the Warriors comeback was.
“You should have gone for the head”
**SPOILER ALERT** If you are one of the 13 people on the planet who have not seen the new Avengers movie, don’t click this link and skip directly to the next gold-blooded musing.”
HOW CRAZY WAS “INFINITY WARS”?! Thanos is on the verge of completing his mission of using the ultimate power of the six Infinity stones, BUT HERE COMES THOR WITH A LIGHTNING AXE STRAIGHT TO THE CHEST! As the son of Odin mean mugs the mortally wounded Thanos, the big purple monster utters the infamous quote that headlines this section, and with an epic snap of his fingers, destroys half of the universe.
How apropos for a Western Conference Finals that saw the Warriors seemingly dying after losing Finals MVP Andre Iguodala midway through the series. Yet, with the painful snap of Chris Paul’s hamstring, half of the Rockets offense vanished.
With CP3 (inevitably) sidelined, the Rockets margin for error closed from slim to none. Looking back, there were at least three blown opportunities Houston had to kill the Golden Empire.
- Getting blown out 119-106 at home in Game 1 after fighting all season to get home-court advantage against the Warriors.
- Failing to capitalize on jumping out to a 17-point lead in Game 6.
- And letting an 11-point halftime lead slip away in Game 7 at home.
James Harden went 14-for-69 from 3-point range over Games 2 through 7 vs the Warriors. That is 20.3 percent...— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) May 29, 2018
There’s no way the Rockets were going to withstand the loss of Paul with Harden building brick houses like that. When asked after Game 7 how close his team was to overcoming the champs, The Beard despondently responded “one half of basketball...two games”.
“You gotta ask yourself a question...do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in, “How David Beats Goliath”, toppling a superior opponent often requires unconventional strategies to flip the odds. Rockets GM Daryl Morey internalized that ethos into Houston, declaring the only way to beat Golden State was with “a barrage of three-pointers”.
He and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni created a simple offense that tortured the NBA this season: let James Harden and Chris Paul probe the court and have everybody else shoot hella three-pointers. Their chances of winning a shootout with the Warriors grew favorably with this tactic — the more treys they launched, the likelier that some lucky bombs could dramatically shift a game, and the series.
Much like the shady guy squaring off against Clint Eastwood’s iconic character “Dirty Harry”, the Rockets gambling strategy left them dead in the Splash against Golden State in Game 7. After jumping on the champs early and taking a promising 54-43 halftime lead, Houston forgot how to make a long distance bucket. Yes, the team that set the NBA record for most treys in a season ever suddenly missed 27 straight threes (an NBA playoff record).
I mean... This pretty much explains it. pic.twitter.com/B08JMyBWsc— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 29, 2018
The Rockets finished Game 7 making only 7-of-44 three-pointers. They shot 87-for-277 on triples for the series for a dismal 31%.
Much credit goes to the Warriors’ defense for being sharp in their rotations and walling off the paint to force Houston to jack. Still, sometimes the Rockets just flat out settled for horrible looks, putting no pressure on Golden State’s defense, hoping to get lucky.
“To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic line in “Conan The Barbarian” is the perfect frame for the sweeping destruction the Warriors wreaked in the second half of both Games 6 and 7.
Check out how they completely crushed Houston in the second half of those games combined, per Sportscenter:
- Point differential: -59
- Points: 63
- FG Pct: 34%
- 3-Pt FG pct: 13%
It was especially delightful last night to watch the Warriors’ two MVP’s rip the heart right out of the arena. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant shook off a sleepy first half to outscore the Rockets 40-38. Yes, that’s right, the Curry and Durant duo outscored the entire Rockets team in the second half last night.
Listen to the crowd’s lamentations in these brutal clips:
This series was the first time we saw Durant and Curry struggling to coexist offensively in the postseason. Curry seemed unsure of when to pick his spots, and Durant battled inefficiency issues as he settled for a bevy of contested jumpers in isolation. A ton of credit for that has to go to the Rockets defense, which was better than advertised.
Kevin Durant on his roller coaster offensive series, starting with the 37, 38 back-to-back, dipping into extreme inefficiency, riding back in time for a big closeout game, clouded by the isolation debate, but ending with a West Finals record 213 points pic.twitter.com/OrQEKqU5FH— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 29, 2018
When the two figured things out, there was literally nothing the Rockets could do but weep.
“You’re a disease… And I’m the cure.”
Sly Stallone’s poetic words from “Cobra” were exactly how I felt as a Warriors fan watching the Rockets and their fans beg for calls the entire series. For the children around the globe watching basketball, it was imperative the Warriors choked out Houston. I don’t want to live in a world where the ref-baiting hijinks of Harden and Paul rule the proud institution that is the NBA’s Western Conference.
The Warriors limited the Rockets to 98 points per game this series, and held them under 100 the last five games of the conference finals. In Game 7, the Rockets offense devolved into either “hoist up a three-pointer” or “throw your body at a Warriors defender and pray for a bailout whistle”.
Yet, if you listen it to it from the Rockets perspective, it’s all one big ol’ conspiracy. That’s right folks, Houston believes the refs jobbed them.
Let’s take a look at the Rockets’ free throw numbers, courtesy of BBall Reference:
- Regular season: 25.1 per game
- Warriors series: 22.7 per game
Also, we can look at the rate of free throw attempts to shot attempts from the floor this series?
- Rockets: .205
- Warriors: .188
This number was higher for both teams in the regular season (.298 for the Rockets, .239 for the Dubs) but the incremental drop off is strikingly similar when you consider the trends. The Rockets free throw rate dropped by about 30%, the Warriors’ dropped by about 20%.
But, as we’ve pointed out previously, this is explainable. We already have stats showing Klay Thompson, Iguodala, and Curry all defend the Rockets at an above average clip without fouling.
...Remember those crazy defensive Klay stats on Harden we put up in the preview? Thompson, our preferred defender on James Harden, had matched up against him 26 times before this series started, and in those 30 possessions per game? 0.8 fouls drawn.
So, forgive me for finding it rather hilarious that the man who literally had a rule instituted to keep his blatant foul hunting from ruining the NBA, is now crying about foul calls.
The NBA can thank the champs for curing them of that disease, at least for this season.
Who was your Warrior Wonder in Game 7 against the Houston Rockets?
This poll is closed