With seven minutes left in the first quarter and the score 12-0 in favor of the Warriors, a messages appeared on slack that couldn’t have been more wrong: “You can turn it off now”. This was in response to the question of when will this game become so out of hand that it no longer is fun to watch.
To say these Conference Finals have been exciting or fun to watch would be a gross mischaracterization. Blowouts, horrendous shooting percentages, and neither team showing up on the same night have been the story lines so far. But that slack message couldn’t have been more wrong, as the Rockets mounted a comeback over the rest of the first half to take a lead going into halftime.
Shortening his rotation to just seven players, Coach D’Antoni let his guys ride out their first quarter shooting slump and trusted in the system that lead the Rockets to the best record in the NBA this season. To say the Warriors were unprepared for the counter punch would be an accurate assessment. This game turned into the heavyweight slugfest we had expected all season, and the Warriors weren’t up to the challenge late in the game.
It’s easy to pick apart the game on the Warriors side. Not enough ball movement (only 269 passes in total), too much isolation, not enough hustle and team defense. But really, this was a Rockets win more than it was a Warriors loss. The Rockets came out of the gate slow, but through Chris Paul (27 points on 10-for-20 shooting and 5-for-9 from the Three Point Line) and Harden (30 points on 11-for-26 shooting), they managed to rack up a team total of 27 free-throw attempts. They drove to the basket, they wen to the line, and they shot threes like it was their job (which it is).
They played defense about as good against the Warriors can, and allowed their offense to shine through. The Warriors aren’t completely not at fault though, letting end of game plays slip through their fingers and taking their foot off the gas in the first half. They once again reverted to getting out of the flow of their offense, and it showed late in the game. They had an opportunity to tie or win in the closing moments, and their play broke down and devolved into a contested turnaround fadeaway from Klay Thompson with three hands in his airspace.
With the series tied at 2 wins a piece, Game Five is expected to be quite the show. If the Rockets can trust themselves and show up to play for four quarters, they’ll have a chance at defeating the Warriors. And if the Warriors find their offense once again, they may be neigh unstoppable.
It’s going to be an exciting next three games. Yes, this series is going to seven.