The Indiana Pacers went to the seventh game of the first round, but they couldn’t get in the way. The Toronto Raptors won 59 games, but they couldn’t stop it. The Boston Celtics were game, shaking off injuries to their two biggest stars, but a great story couldn’t prevail of the greatest talent.
The San Antonio Spurs were old and battered, and they weren’t much competition. The New Orleans Pelicans weren’t talented enough. And the 65-win Houston Rockets, the NBA’s best regular-season team, didn’t have enough left in their tank after seven physically and mentally exhaustive games.
No matter what the NBA threw at the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, the inevitable destiny of the generation’s best team facing the generation’s best player was too strong, too powerful to be stopped.
Despite trailing by as many as 15 points, despite sleepwalking through a first half in which their opponents were tougher and faster, despite foul trouble to one of their best players, the Golden State Warriors retook their throne in Houston, sprinting past the Rockets 101-92 on Monday night.
The Warriors will meet LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals for the fourth season in a row.
It wasn’t easy, and it definitely didn’t seem like a certainty. But, that has sort of been the Warriors’ season as a whole. For a team full of stars, it would seem like things should go smoother.
Maybe it was boredom or disinterest or overconfidence or whatever, but something caused Golden State to play its worst half of the playoffs in the first two quarters.
“I was like, ‘Don’t scare me,’ ” guard Nick Young said.
But veterans Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston know what can happen after halftime.
“We take a look at the game, a snapshot of the game,” Livingston said.
And the snapshot Monday told the Warriors they should’ve been down 30 points instead of 11. And that’s nothing, not to this team.
“We know we can make a lead evaporate in just two minutes of basketball,” Thompson said.
And everyone else knows it too. In the conference finals, the Warriors outscored Houston by 68 points in the third quarter, three times outscoring them by at least 17 points in the quarter.
“That takes a lot out of teams,” Livingston said. “That’s a big first punch, but you’ve got to sustain. That’s the hardest.”
Monday, the Warriors were 18 points better in the third quarter, with Curry making three-point shots over whoever Houston tried to throw in front of him. Curry scored 14 points in the third quarter, 11 in labout a two-minute stretch that gave the Warriors their first lead since early in the game.
“It usually happens at some point during the game,” coach Steve Kerr said of Curry’s outbursts. “But that's ultimately what loosens the game up. And what gets us going is Steph's offense, and Steph's high screens, and three-point shots off those screens. For whatever reason, he seems to infuse us with energy.”
And as the Warriors’ energy went up, Houston’s disappeared.
Without Chris Paul for a second consecutive game because of a hamstring injury, the Rockets needed to find more shot makers, more scoring, more leadership.
But still, as they did in Game 6, they jumped on the Warriors from the start, outworking and outplaying their more talented opponent. But like in Game 6, the burst was just that, only a burst.
“One half of basketball — two games, Game 6 and 7. One half of basketball,” James Harden said. “… It’s extremely frustrating.”
The Warriors made their second-half run right as the Rockets got stuck in as bad of a shooting slump that’s possible, missing 27 three-point shots in a row in a stretch that begin midway through the second quarter and extended into the fourth.
In between, Eric Gordon’s three pointer in the second quarter and P.J. Tucker’s in the fourth, the Warriors outscored Houston 61-34.
“We did everything well, except they outshot us. … When they make their little runs, we have to be able to hit threes to keep them at bay, and we just couldn't do it or didn't do it,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.
No one can, or at least no one has the last four seasons. Kevin Durant couldn’t do it in Oklahoma City in the last four years. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs came up short. The Rockets and Harden have now tried twice and failed.
“We’ll try again next year,” D’Antoni said.
But as long as Curry and Thompson and Green and Durant are together, as long as James is playing in the Eastern Conference, teams can try all they want.