The two strongest teams in the Western Conference in the NBA have been matched up in the semi-finals, the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Golden State have been the best team over the past five years, and have three titles to show for it. The Rockets have been to the Conference Finals in 2015 and 2018, with James Harden being the main reason they have done so.
As the years have continued this match-up has turned into quite a rivalry. After Golden State added 2014 MVP Winner, and James Harden’s former OKC team mate, Kevin Durant, the matchup became even more contentious. There was no love lost between the two teams, who have been ahead of the curve in terms of the number of three pointers they shoot. The Rockets have been the number one ranked team for the past five years by the number of three pointers they attempted. Golden State have been in the top five teams in the number of attempts, but have the two of the best and transformative three point scorers of all time in two-time MVP Steph Curry and also Klay Thompson. These organisations have been at the forefront of the three point revolution that is currently taking place in the NBA over the last few seasons.
At the start of last season, Houston traded for multi-time all-star Chris Paul. He has proven to be the perfect running mate for James Harden, as Harden has slowly become one of the top three players in the league. With Paul’s leadership, especially on defence, it allows for Harden to be truly unleashed on the offensive end, without having to exert too much energy on defence because of Chris Paul’s leadership in anchoring the Rockets perimeter defence. One of the only problems for Paul, is father-time. He is already 34 years of age, and he is slowly playing less games as nagging injuries continue to be an issue for him as the years go on. This places increasingly more pressure on the Houston Rockets. They know that their ‘championship clock’ is ticking, and this raises the stakes for the whole organisation.
This is partly why the intensity in this series is that of a Conference Finals, or perhaps even the NBA Finals. The Rockets know that they only have a limited number of years left of Chris Paul’s prime, and the Golden State Warriors are the team that have been atop the Western Conference since 2014. They have eliminated the Rockets three times since 2014, and the vast majority of the Rockets squad has been part of these losses. If the Warriors did not have the array of talent that they possess, perhaps the Rockets could have been the NBA Champions?
Following the Rockets loss in Game 1 of the series against the Golden State Warriors, someone within the Rockets organisation released a draft of a memo, which stated the officiating of last year’s playoffs cost them the opportunity to win a championship. This was after one the main culprits of the poor refereeing, also happened to be officiating this current series. Per ESPN, the report stated that tthere was a total of 82 foul calls that were missed during the series, which cost the Rockets 18.6 points. Whilst this is purely a statistic, and any team could conduct a similar report, and find numerous foul calls that were missed, but the timing of this report being released, was calculated. This was to plant the idea in the head of this series’ referees to not miss foul calls and show some subliminal bias towards the Rockets after their game one loss.
The timing of this leak, will have only fired the Golden State Warriors up. Adding further fuel to the Warriors belief that they can win another title, and stop the Rockets from reaching the NBA Finals. Considering the star power of the Warriors starting line-up, and the sheer number of wins they have had over the past five seasons, this could easily be the fire that is needed for them to get over the line. Their play so far this year, suggests that they are lacking motivation, if they can manage to use this deliberate leak of information by the Rockets it should inspire them to impede them from progressing through this round.
There are so many subplots, topics, factors, and genuine animosity between the two organisations who have been trailblazers in the league over the past few years, and if it wasn’t for the way the NBA Playoffs were structured, this would be the Western Conference Finals, not the Semi-Finals. These are the two best teams in the Western Conference of the NBA.
Photo Courtesy of Cover the Spread.