After sitting on the pantheon of NBA greatness over the last nine months, the two giants of the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, are poised to meet one final time for a chance to compete for a world championship.
Speculation has run wild the entire year about who the dominant team might be; and both teams certainly showed their prowess in their second round matchup. The Rockets, despite the strong performances from rookie (of the year) Donovan Mitchell and journeyman Joe Ingles, took their series against the Utah Jazz in five games this past week. The Warriors faced slightly more trouble against dominant big man Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, after losing their second game by double figures and warranting questions about the health of superstar guard Stephen Curry following his absence with a hand injury. All was forgotten after winning the next three games by double digits themselves, setting up the showdown that begins this upcoming weekend.
All of the other teams are finished now. No more analysts posing the question of whether or not a “dark horse” team could steal the show in the West this postseason, asking if it’s truly time to call the Warriors unprecedented streak of dominance as finished, and still clinging to the hope that a forty-year-old Manu Ginobli led Spurs team can rebound (Skip Bayless really makes an absurd amount of money for the contributions he provides). Here’s where the fun part begins.
On one side, you have the Warriors. World champions two out of the last three seasons, they boast the most talented roster on a professional basketball team the league has ever seen. Two-time league most valuable player Stephen Curry, four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant and perennial sharpshooter Klay Thompson consistently pose a significant offensive threat to anyone who squares off against them; and they have proven they have what it takes to control the tempo any given time they touch the ball. Unmentioned (although never forgotten) are the valuable contributions of forward Draymond Green, whose aggressive and fundamentally sound playing style provides defensive solidarity on a truly dominant roster. Helming the crew and steering them towards their success since taking over five seasons ago is head coach Steve Kerr, who knows a thing or two about playing with superstars, and understands how to make everyone feel comfortable in their personality-driven locker room.
The Rockets, now that’s a different story. After imploding in the Western Conference Finals last season, and facing significant flack for the lackluster performance of James Harden in key moments of the deciding game, general manager Daryl Morey recognized that his roster was still a few pieces short of challenging the Warriors for the conference title. He delivered soon after their defeat, making a blockbuster deal with the Los Angeles Clippers in order to acquire fellow superstar point guard Chris Paul to assist Harden in his ascent towards the top. I had plenty of questions about how these two would play together earlier in the off-season, but they’ve certainly proven me and many others wrong. 65-17, stealing the conference from Golden State by seven games in the regular conference and developing the truly generational offensive talent of James Harden has helped the Rockets become the story of the league this season, and allowed bloggers, analysts and sportscasters alike to ask: could this be the year Goliath falls?
Daryl Morey made it known last fall that he and his staff “spend most of our time figuring out how we might knock the Warriors out in seven games”- and recognize that this series will define the next several years for the franchise moving forward. Another huge free agent-palooza awaits us in July, with the likes of Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and even a minor guy named LeBron James hitting the open market and potentially looking for somewhere new to play and further challenges to face. With a championship underneath their belt, the Rockets could be the most attractive option for a variety of them, potentially spelling the end of the Warriors dominance over a league driven by star-studded rosters and larger than life personalities in our modern world.
No more arguments, no more shots traded between the two teams during interviews, and no more speculation. Expect high scoring games, plenty of trash talk between both sides, and highlight tape stretching a mile long in this duel out in the desert. The two larger-than-life teams this season, the former most valuable players of the league squaring off against a guy who used to be the sixth man on an underachieving Oklahoma City team, now await each other in the series we’ve been waiting for since October- and oh boy, will it certainly be one to remember.