For much of the past four years, the Golden State Warriors have been as close to invincible as any franchise in the history of sports. The only blemish on their resume is the 3-1 collapse they suffered to the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2015-2016 NBA Finals. Many will argue the questionable suspension of Draymond Green for game 5 was the turning point that gave Cleveland life in the series. Cleveland took advantage of the Green suspension, garnered momentum and never looked back. Outside of that collapse, the Warriors have been dominant. They’ve manhandled LeBron and the Cavs each of the other three years in the Finals, and they’ve cake walked through the western conference playoffs with very few obstacles. This year however for the first time since the dynasty of Golden State was formed, seems to be the most vulnerable they’ve ever been. The Warriors looked paralyzed while blowing a 31-point blown lead to the 8th-seeded Los Angeles Clippers. They weren’t about to lose the series, but the emphatic second-half collapse was a clear representation as to where the Warriors are mentally at the moment. Things have been trending south all season. The Warriors have lost more games this year than any year since 2013-2014 when they lost 31. The ironic part is that this current roster that they have is easily their most talented. Usually, you would associate more talent, with more wins — But that hasn’t been the case. Even with the addition of All-World center DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors still have taken a step back. Now, I’m well aware that Cousins isn’t what he once was, after battling back from a horrific achilles injury, but still, he’s the best big man they’ve had since they’ve put together their version of the “Dream Team”. What seems to be the Warriors demise this year isn’t their lack of talent, but instead their lack of continuity. For the first time in the last five years, they appear disengaged from one another, and there have been signs all year long. There was the KD vs Draymond fiasco that started the season off with heavy turmoil. Then there’s been the lingering questions about KD and Klay Thompson’s upcoming free agency. A question Durant has deflected the entire season, as many speculate he has one foot out the door and on the way to New York. And last but not least there’s the circulating 60 Minutes viral clip where the interviewer asks a group of Warriors what it’s like to play in Golden State and Andre Iguodala answers by saying “As you get older, you don’t want to play for nobody else. If they’re recruiting me, it’s gotta be the template”. Steph Curry and Shaun Livingston laugh along in agreeance with Iguodala as he explains his perspective. However, if you look at KD and Klay’s facial expressions in while that is happening, they’re sitting there with no smile, no engagement, and seemingly disinterested to the thought of staying in the Bay Area. So, with Golden State appearing more vulnerable than ever before, this is the time for another franchise to strike. There’s blood in the water. Who’s hungry enough to take advantage? Look no further than the 4th seeded Houston Rockets. Here are three reasons why Houston can beat Golden State.
Since the All-Star break, only the Utah Jazz have had a better defensive efficiency rating than the Houston Rockets. However, in game one of the Houston/Jazz first-round playoff series, the Houston defense proved far too much for the Jazz to overcome and the Houston offense proved far too reliable for the Jazz to slow down. The Rockets held the Jazz to 39% shooting from the floor and forced 18 turnovers. It was the kind of defensive performance that gives the Rockets, a historically elite offensive team, the confidence that they are legitimate title contenders who can play against anyone and compete. Since the All-Star break, Houston has allowed only 105.3 points per game, which was a major factor in their league-best 20-5 post All-Star break record. If you want a shot at challenging the Warriors, you have to make things stuff for them on the offensive end. If you’re allowing them wide open three-point looks, easy transition buckets, and second-chance opportunities, you can forget about it. You’ll have no chance. The Rockets have the potential to dig-in a make GS work for everything they get offensively. Clint Capela is one of the best rim protectors in the league, and also has enough foot speed to switch on pick-and-rolls and not get completely embarrassed. PJ Tucker has been renowned as one of the leagues grittiest players for years now. Chris Paul is one of the best defensive point guards the league has ever seen. Eric Gordon makes up for his athletic limitations with effort and intelligence. And lastly, James Harden has come a long way over the last couple of years to dramatically improve his defensive abilities. The Warriors are impossible to lock down, but the Rockets can make them work for every bucket they get, which in return could tire the Warriors out on the other end of the floor.
The Warriors have arguably the two greatest shooters that the sport of basketball has ever seen. I take that back. There is no argument. It’s just facts at this point. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the two best shooters the game of basketball has ever had to offer, and it just so happens they somehow have ended up on the same team. When Klay and Steph were on the come up and just starting to ascend themselves to superstardom, the rest of the NBA was shell shocked. No one knew how to defend the Warriors, or match their offensive production. Golden State was able to beat their opponents by simply outscoring them. However, over the past five years, the entire NBA has shifted its style of basketball. It was a necessary step by all other 31 franchises to take if they wanted to have any chance of competing. The Warriors were the first team to embrace the “pace and space” brand of basketball, and ultimately are the reason the entire league now plays that same way. You no longer watch games and see the traditional two-man post sets. You no longer watch games and see the grind it out, half-court style of games. You no longer watch games where the point guards dominate the ball and set up every offensive set. No. Nowadays all five guys are capable of bringing the ball up immediately following a rebound, and the other four guys are running down the court to spot up in transition. The entire league is based around getting as many offensive possessions as possible and taking as many shots as possible. Thanks to the Warriors. No team in the NBA have embraced the “pace and space” style more than the Houston Rockets. The Rockets take and make more 3-pointers than any team in NBA history. The Rockets have set and broken the average made 3-pointers per game for a team in each of the past three seasons. In 2016-2017 they made 14.40 a game. The following year (2017-2018) they broke that record making 15.32 a game. Then, this year (2018-2019) they broke that record by making 16.13 3s a game. They also broke and reset the most 3s attempted per game each of those three years. This year the Rockets as a team attempted an average of 45.38 three-pointers per game. The Rockets even set the NBA record for the most 3s made in a single game with 27 against the Phoenix Suns on April 7th, 2019. The Rockets generally play Capela to man the middle and grab boards, and then space the floor with shooters everywhere else. Tucker is an elite corner 3-point shooter. Eric Gordon is as good of a catch and shoot 3-point shooter as you’ll find anywhere in the NBA. Gerald Green comes off the bench and lets it fly at will, attempting the most 3s by a non-starter of anyone in the league this year. CP3 has become a knockdown shooter — And James Harden can get a 3-pointer off whenever he wants out of the isolation. I’m not saying the Rockets have better shooters than the Warriors as individuals, but as a team, the Rockets can shoot it as good as anyone, and if they’re knocking down the trey ball they have the ability to give the Warriors fits.
Does anything more even need to be said about this guy?!? I mean WOW; I’m a huge LeBron fan and have argued til the wee hours of the night with multiple people advocating LeBron’s greatness and explaining why he’s the best player on the planet. But after this year, that argument is no longer valid. James Harden is the best basketball player on the planet. Many will argue Giannis and bring into perspective his team finishing with the best record in the NBA, but records are skewed. Houston was playing injured throughout the entire season and never had their intended preseason starting five healthy all at once until the end of the year, where they went 20-5 together. There was a stretch at the beginning of the season where the Rockets were missing Capela, CP3, and Eric Gordon. Harden was going out there with 2-way G-League players starting alongside him and beating NBA teams basically by himself. He was single-handedly willing the Rockets to wins. The Beard is unguardable at this point, and his statistics prove that. On the year Harden is averaging 36.1ppg, 7.5apg, and shooting 36.8% from behind the arc. Harden made 378 3-pointers this season which is the second most made in a single season ever. He also got fouled more than anyone in the league, and attempted and made more free throws than anyone in the league. His game is so unorthodox that it is impossible to prepare for. He scores almost every single bucket out of the isolation, and it hasn’t mattered one bit who’s isolated on him. His array of crossovers, stepbacks, and side-steps have made the entire NBA look foolish. Anytime you have the league’s best player on your side; you’re going to have a fair shot at beating anybody, even the almighty Warriors. If Harden is on his A-game they most certainly can out the Warriors, after all, they did take them to a game-7 last year. Many argued that if the Rockets didn’t lose CP3 to an injury for that final game that they would have won the series. All I know is that Harden is better than he’s ever been before in his current form, and that is a problem for everyone in his way. If anyone can finally dethrone the Warriors, it’s this guy.
Keep in mind that this is not a prediction. I am in no way, shape, or form suggesting that the Houston Rockets WILL, in fact, defeat the Warriors. I’m simply stating the reasons as to which they could potentially eliminate the Warriors. Obviously, it’s professional sports, and every team remaining in the playoffs have ultra-talented players, therefore giving themselves a chance to win on any given night. I chose to single out the Rockets from the other 14 teams on a quest trying to dethrone the Warriors simply because I believe they are best suited of anyone remaining to possibly defeat Golden State. I believe Houston has the key pieces and the style of play to make for an incredible series. Also, they’re going to play in the next round (barring they both get through their first-round test), so this is more so of a preview of the problems Houston has the potential to cause the Warriors. Also, if you’ve watched Houston and GS play against one another this season you’ve seen how challenging Houston has been for the Warriors.