By: Jeffrey Newholm
One of the sillier promotions the NBA runs is the NBA 2K league. Unathletic coach potatoes try to virtually outhoop opponents, with one highlight being a wind wheel dunk that wasn’t real. Of course, all of us who play sports games love to use a stacked team against pansies. In 2014, a ten year old with a lineup of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson would probably be told by his mom to “quit fooling around and take out the trash”. Today that lineup is a reality. But finally three time defending league finalist Golden State faces a legitimate challenger in a copycat Houston team specifically designed to outshoot the dubs.
Golden State likes to shoot threes. You don’t need a bracketoligist to tell you that. Specifically, the team shoots 30 a game in the postseason. But Houston averages 40! Both teams average over 110 points a game, with Houston led by Chris Paul’s 21 points and six assists and James Harden’s 29 points and seven assists. Golden State outscores opponents by an average of 13 points a game this postseason, but by just two on the road. Houston is more balanced, winning by an average of nine a game at home and eight on the road. And that’s the devilish detail in this series.
Houston coasted to the one seed while the Warriors lazily played out the final month. But Houston hasn’t played at 100% effort the entire season either, often appearing bored and worrying many fans with a home loss to the Jazz. However, a determined Paul is anxious to make his first finals appearance. Harden is eager to make his first as the lead player for the team that wanted him the most. The dubs overwhelmed playoff opponents with fast starts, but often pick up ill tempered t’s and ejections. Nothing worthwhile comes without a struggle, however, and this series will be one.
Keeping one’s eye on the ball (or screen) is probably the oldest cliché in sports. But in this series it’s crucial. Mike D’Antoni has done a marvelous job in making sure his team shrugs off misses and keeps shooting. The 2016 Cavs kept fighting until the final minute and surprised the Warriors in Oakland. And the dubs are set to be surprised again. Although only an underdog seven times this season, they have an aura of invincibility that, once pierced, reveals a team finally vulnerable. The best coaches, at the end of the playoffs, don’t have to actually coach. The Rockets are focused unblinkingly on the horizon and won’t be spooked by a loss or two. The Warriors, by contrast, don’t have the composure to finish a tight game six or seven. Houston will need a fourth game at home to finish, but haven’t built for this long to hit the reset button now.