At the close of their historic regular season, the Golden State Warriors knew they would need 16 more wins complete their title defense. They knew the first four would have to come against the Houston Rockets. And after two games, it’s become laughably clear: It should have been the Utah Jazz. Houston earned the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, but they don’t deserve to be there.
This was the match-up in last year’s Western Conference Finals. Appropriately so, as the Warriors and the Rockets were the number one and two seeds, respectively. This year, of course, is not last year, and if the calendar isn’t enough to confirm it, a quick look at these two teams will. The Warriors impossibly improved on a 67-15 record to the best record of all-time. Klay put up Steph numbers and Steph put up alien numbers. They went from the one-seed to the one-seed plus. The Rockets yeah, they didn’t do those things. They did the opposite things. Backward things. A-team-that-knows-they-will-not-be-playing-with-each-other-next-year things. They went from the two-seed to the eight-seed, and they were grateful even for that.
But still, this is the playoffs where any team can beat any team. I used to believe that. I don’t anymore. The Rockets are done. On Saturday, the Warriors led the game the entire way, and the final buzzer mercifully ended the game with the Warriors up by 26. Last night, the game was a bit closer, and the Rockets even threatened at times, but these are the Warriors and they are the Rockets and so the Warriors won and the Rockets lost. Dwight Howard showed, once again, that he’s as soft as Kobe Bryant said he was. Harden flailed and flopped in a way that made Arjen Robben proud. Meanwhile, the Warriors played semi-positionless basketball, having Klay and Dray and Livingston bringing the ball up, spotting the match-ups, and calling the plays. They can do this any night, but last night they did it because they had to.
If Steph is on the court with Klay, Dray, Andrew, and Iggy, Steph is pauper. The fifth-highest paid Warrior, the 65th in the NBA, Steph is the best value in all of sports. In 2012, he signed a contract that guaranteed him millions, but left millions more on the table because his future was far from certain. Having undergone two surgeries on his right-ankle, the Warriors gambled on their young guard, but wanted a discount for the glass ankle. He signed, became the MVP, and ankle injuries seemed to be a thing of the past—or so we prayed. But in Game 1, the ghosts of ankle injuries past came back to haunt us all. Steph tweaked it, we gasped, he played on, we exhaled, he left the game for good in the 4th, and we began to nervously lie to ourselves. He’ll be fine, we said. No need to play him in the 4th anyway, we said. When it was announced that Steph would also sit out Game 2, let him rest for the trip to Houston, we said. As of right now, we don’t know the extent of the injury. It’s probably nothing. Having already won two games, there probably is no need to play Steph in Game 3. Let him rest. He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine.
Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
Golden State Warriors (1) v. Houston Rockets (8)
Warriors lead series, 2-0
Saturday, April 16: Warriors WON (104-78)
Monday, April 18: Warriors WON (115-106)
Thursday, April 21: Warriors at Houston, 6:30PM, TNT
Sunday, April 24: Warriors at Houston, 12:30PM, ABC
Wednesday, April 27: Warriors at home, TBD
Friday, April 29: Warriors at Houston, TBD
Sunday, May 1: Warriors at home, TBD