It’s incredible to think that two of the best teams in the Western Conference over the last two decades haven’t played each other in the playoffs in that same timespan.
Admittedly, Houston’s success during that period was more rooted in regular season success. The team won one playoff series between the Hakeem Olajuwon and James Harden eras, a period that included Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Tracy McGrady, and Yao Ming.
The Rockets had talent for sure. Most years, it was great talent. And they had great coaching as well. But Jeff van Gundy ran into Mark Cuban’s referee buddies and Rick Adelman ran into injuries. So while the Rockets put together great regular seasons over and over again, they never ran into their I-10 rivals. After all, if you cannot get past the first round, how can you run into a team that consistently outlasts others?
Think about this: Tim Duncan beat every Western Conference team in the playoffs except the Houston Rockets. He even has a series win over the Seattle Supersonics!
More than once it looked realistic. In 2007, the Rockets and Jazz went to 7 games with the winner getting a crack at the 8-seed Golden State Warriors, who had just toppled a 67-win Mavericks team. The winner of that series was almost (and eventually was) assured a Western Conference Finals appearance against the Spurs. The Jazz knocked off the Rockets and then the Warriors before getting humiliated by San Antonio.
Three years ago, Voldemort did some stuff to prevent a second-round Spurs-Rockets matchup. We don’t need to talk about it.
Two years ago, an insane final day of the regular season dropped the Spurs from the 2 seed down to the 6 in a period of about 3 hours. Still, the Rockets cruised against the 7-seed Mavericks and the Spurs held a 3-2 lead over the 3-seed Clippers with Game 6 in San Antonio. The Clippers shot lights out in the second half of that contest and in Game 7 Chris Paul hit one of the most incredible shots you’ll ever see. Luckily for Spurs fans, they saw the Clippers blow a 3-1 lead in the following series.
So here we go.
The Spurs won the season series 3-1. Houston held a big lead in the third matchup, but wilted late. In fact, all four games were close, but the Spurs prevailed in three of them. That’s the Spurs’ specialty: keeping their heads late in games. They do not make mistakes. They do not beat themselves. You can’t wait for them to die. You have to kill them. They will always be good. Forever and ever.
In the fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire (the series upon which Game of Thrones is based), there are multiple competing religious beliefs. One such religion practiced by those in the Iron Islands centers around a “Drowned God.” I’m not going to get into detail, but the common phrase for them is “What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.”
That phrase has defined the Spurs over the last 30 years or so. Sure they get beaten in the playoffs, but they always come back with a vengeance. Their 2014 “Eff the NBA Tour” is the stuff of legends. Every year we think they might finally falter just a bit, and every year they refuse to die.
However, there’s another famous saying in George R.R. Martin’s world. A common phrase in Essos goes “Valar morghulis.” What does it mean?
“All men must die.”
The Rockets cannot kill off the Spurs in this series. That’s impossible since the Spurs are already dead. Frankly, they’re more like white walkers at this point. But even those can die to Valyrian steel or dragonglass.
Or maybe to a dragonbeard.
Prediction: Spurs in 5.
Tip-off is at 8:30pm CT on TNT.