Who wins Game 7, Rockets or Warriors? The ‘Your Turn’ voting isn’t even close
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The Rockets have been the NBA’s best team since Day 1 of the season. That’s the message they sent by winning at defending champion Golden State in their 2017-18 opener, by sprinting onward to a brilliant 25-4 start and by putting together compelling winning streaks of 14, 17 and 11 games en route to a 65-17 regular-season finish, tops in the league by a wide margin.
So why do I find it almost unthinkable that they’ll take their own home court Monday night and beat the Warriors again in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals?
For that matter, why do you? Nearly seven in 10 who voted in a “Your Turn” poll asking which team will win went with the Warriors, who rather coasted through a 58-win regular season and have been less than their usual beautiful offensive selves in this series.
Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and company were the clear pick on Facebook, too.
“The Warriors,” wrote Don, “because they clearly are the better team, regardless of who wins, and seventh games are usually won by the better team.”
“The Warriors are too good to be stopped with their four All-Stars,” opined Riley.
And Aundre dropped the hammer on the Rockets: “Hate to say it, but Houston is done.”
Harsh, but is it true? At full strength — which depends on the status of All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who injured a hamstring in Game 5 — the Rockets have the offensive machinery to play with any opponent, even an all-time-great collection of talent like the Warriors.
James Harden is the league’s No. 1 scorer. He and Paul are by far its top combo in assists. As prolific as the Warriors’ Curry and Thompson are from the three-point line, ranking first and fourth in the league, Harden and teammate Eric Gordon are sandwiched between them at second and third.
If it’s a shootout the Warriors want, the Rockets won’t hesitate to say OK.
“There’s no pressure,” Harden said. “It’s an opportunity, an opportunity that we all are excited to be a part of. Game 7 at our house? That’s what we’ve worked the entire regular season for, to get home-court advantage. So we’re going to come out and be ready.”
Ah, but that’s the crux of the biscuit, isn’t it? Will the Warriors come out and be ready, too? Will they be as ready to play in the first quarter as they are in the third?
The first-quarter Warriors have been a band of fat-and-happy layabouts just waiting to be taken down a peg. A group that could outplay, say, the Jordan Bulls? Puh-lease. But the third-quarter Warriors just might be the greatest team ever. They’ve outscored opponents by 112 points in the third quarter during this playoff run, the largest margin for any team in any quarter in the 63-year-old shot-clock era.
“I have no clue why our team is like this,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “But this is kind of what we do. We’re up-and-down a little bit.”
Another dominant third quarter in Game 6 led to the Warriors’ staggering 64-25 advantage after halftime. That might’ve all but killed the Rockets’ dream right there.
I spent a plane ride trying to think of how big of a surprise a Rockets victory Monday would be to me, what it would compare with from postseasons past.
I thought of Detroit knocking off the “superteam” Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton in 2004, but that didn’t seem big enough. Malone and Payton were so old and broken-down by then, it was like a Walter Matthau-Jack Lemmon movie.
I thought of the Cavaliers coming back from a three-games-to-one deficit to beat the Warriors in the 2016 Finals, but there was a legitimate debate in that series about which team was stronger. Cleveland had LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Golden State didn’t have Durant yet, but did have the volatile Green going off the rails.
Honestly, I even thought about the defending-champion, 14-2 Bears in 1986. That defeat against the Redskins at Soldier Field was a gut-punch and then some. Oof, it still hurts.
What I settled on, though, was the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in 1993. Jordan was working on title No. 3. Who cares if the Knicks had a better record and the No. 1 seed? The Knicks were — like these Rockets are — formidable. Yet they were a movable object going up against an irresistible force.
Is that what these Warriors are, an irresistible force? After Game 6, Durant’s confidence suggested as much.
“We’re looking forward to going down there, locking in and being who we are,” he said. “Can’t wait ’til Tuesday.”
Just to be on the safe side, Durant might want to be ready to roll 24 hours earlier — you know, like, when the game actually starts.
Maybe there’s something to these focus issues that are keeping the Warriors from romping to their third title in four years. Still, it seems a lot of us are going to need the unthinkable to happen before we can believe it.