For the first time since Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors in 2016, it looked like this might be the season perhaps the most talented roster in NBA history wouldn’t make the Finals. The Houston Rockets put together not just the unquestionably second-best roster behind the Warriors but did so in a manner that was aimed to beat them at their own game.
The Rockets were the first team who could mirror, or even best, Golden State’s three-point style of play. They were such a legitimate threat that many considered the Western Conference Finals to be the pseudo-NBA Finals. It was the best two teams in the league going at each other. So what went wrong for Houston?
In the decisive game seven of the series, the most prominent answer is frustratingly simple: they didn’t shoot the ball well. Many complained about the officiating and while there were a few questionable calls, it’s hard to place the blame anywhere but their three-point shot. It’s cliché but the Rockets lived by the three and died by it as well.
Their 27 consecutively missed three-pointers were the most in NBA playoff history and was such an anomaly that FiveThirtyEight found the chances of it happening were 1 in 72,000. When a team fails that enormously, especially against the Warriors, it’s hard to place the blame elsewhere. There are several reasons for the poor shooting ranging from Chris Paul’s absence, relying on lesser players than their All-Stars, shot selection and even just having an off night at the worst possible time.
For the series as a whole, Houston didn’t lose four games because of any particular or consistent statistical measure. Rather, they were bested by a team that has figured out just how good they are and it helps the way they play.
Golden State simply is a team that doesn’t panic when the other team starts gaining momentum and it’s largely because they know just how loaded their roster is. Houston was able to rely on James Harden and Chris Paul to consistently deliver the most valuable shot of the game day in and day out but Golden State has double that. Their confidence is what ultimately undid the Rockets.
That’s not to say the Rockets are not capable of beating the Warriors, they came close and if game seven were played again, the same outcome is far from guaranteed. If the Rockets continue to build in the right direction, they will remain favorites to topple the seemingly unstoppable.
With Chris Paul’s upcoming offseason being the focus for Houston, recent news that he is attempting to recruit LeBron James to the team can be taken two ways. One, he knows he is staying in Houston and wants LeBron to join him or he could simply want to play wherever James decides to go.
While the loss of Chris Paul would hurt, Houston has proved they have figured out the way to play to beat the Warriors and can continue to create opportunities as long as they have James Harden and Clint Capela.