First off, from all of us at The Dream Shake, we’d like to take this time on Memorial Day to thank those serving their country. Some things are bigger than basketball, and the sacrifices made by the men and women of the military allow us to watch and enjoy a bunch of grown men in costumes try to place a sphere inside a cylinder for 48 minutes. Thank you for everything you do and have done.
The entire season comes down to this.
Houston and Golden State seemed set on a collision course all year, and both held up their end of the bargain. The Warriors never really saw Houston as a threat, collectively shrugging and saying some equivalent of “We’ll see if they get there” every time they were asked about a potential Western Conference Finals matchup.
Not only did Houston get there, but they have done something that no one else has done in the Kevin Durant Warriors Era: win more than one game in a series. In fact, in their six series with KD the Dubs have lost three games total. The Rockets have won three in this series alone. That’s against the greatest team ever assembled. No matter what happens, this season has been an absolute success.
However, that’s not enough for the Rockets. James Harden and Chris Paul have said all year that a championship is their goal. They don’t care about the respect they have garnered over the last few weeks, they just want to win.
That’s admittedly going to be an uphill battle with Paul either out tonight or severely hobbled. Even if the Point God can give Houston minutes, there won’t be many and they won’t be peak Paul. That puts pressure on James Harden, Eric Gordon, and the rest of the Rockets to beat an incredible team without their second-best player and the engine that makes the team run when Harden sits.
The key for the Rockets is the same it’s been all series, but there’s a little more tonight. Besides minimizing turnovers and making layups, the Rockets have to stay aggressive on both ends of the court. Their best shot at beating the Warriors without a healthy Paul is to hit triples and that starts with Harden and Gordon forcing help off shooters. That requires them to get points off drives, which in turn requires the referees to remember that a basketball game is going on, even in the playoffs.
I’m not a fan of going after referees. It’s unbecoming and comes across as whiny, but what I saw in Game 6 was a travesty. You can say “Oh, the teams shot a similar number of free throws” all you want. Or you can say my personal favorite: “Houston lost by 29 so even if they got 28 free throws they would have lost.” That’s how math works, but it’s not how basketball works. Generally, when referees swallow their whistles on legitimate fouls, it’s a double doozy. Not only does the aggrieved team not get potential points that they are owed (and closer to the bonus and foul trouble for key players), but usually the fouled player is left in a heap on the floor (because he was fouled, you see) and the team that got away with the foul now gets a 5-on-4. When it’s the Magic or Hornets, that’s not a big deal. When it’s the Warriors, that’s an open 3. So yeah, the Rockets lost by 29 and 28 free throws would not have been enough, but the referees absolutely decided the basketball game in the third quarter by igniting the Warriors’ run.
The Golden State Warriors are an all-time great team. They are probably the greatest team ever. They have two MVPs, a DPOY, and the two greatest shooters ever and a third in the top 5 all-time. The point is that the Warriors don’t need any help. They can win games without the referees. Houston, meanwhile, will need some help and need to get most of the 50-50 calls tonight to even have a chance. It feels childish to ask for calls, but it’s true.
That’s an easier task with the game being at Toyota Center. Houston worked all year to win 65 games and secure homecourt advantage throughout the postseason. They dealt with injuries just like everyone else and still came out on top. Now they have to use what they’ve learned and earned this season to take down the reigning champions.
This could be the last Rockets preview of the season. Hopefully not, but just in case I want to say that I’ve had a blast this season with all of you and I can’t wait for many more great Rockets games and seasons.
I’d like to leave you with the greatest commercial ever made.
Tip-off is at 8pm CT on TNT