The Rockets had a memorable season, but after 99 games, two playoff series victories, and a hard-fought seven-game affair with the defending champions, it was not enough to dethrone them and the Rockets went home, or stayed home, empty-handed.
Even nearly a day after the loss, it still sucks. It stings. A lot. And it should, even if the Rockets weren’t favored. This team had a lot of pride and a real connection with their fans, and to see anything less than a championship for them doesn’t feel right. Ever since this past offseason, it felt everything was going Houston’s way.
In June, a month after a premature playoff defeat at the hands of the Spurs, GM Daryl Morey did all that he could to try and improve the team, trading seven players for Chris Paul, which placed the Rockets on a different level than most teams in the West.
In July, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute came on board. Tucker would go on to be the only Rocket to play every single game and LMAM contributed to a newfound defensive identity that the Rockets would adopt throughout the season.
In August, James Harden stepped up as a leader and began organizing offseason workouts with the team to help build team chemistry before bringing the team together to help the city repair itself in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
In December, Houston’s own Gerald Green signed with his hometown Rockets and gave the team an infectious energy that immediately made him a fan favorite and instant scoring off the bench.
Throughout the season, the Rockets racked up 65 victories, the most in franchise history and in the league this season to grab the No. 1 seed in the West and home court advantage throughout the entire NBA Playoffs. This was the first time in franchise history that the Rockets have accomplished that feat and it would give them home court advantage in a pivotal seven-game series with the Warriors.
After the Rockets got by the Timberwolves and Jazz, it set up the battle that the Rockets had planned since June, and they were fully equipped, with home court advantage as a cherry on top.
Through five games, the Rockets had the Warriors right where they wanted them. Houston had a 3-2 lead in the series and were one win away from achieving their goal, defeating Golden State, and heading to their first NBA Finals in 23 years.
Everything was going Houston’s way, until CP3 went down in Game 5.
CP3’s hamstring injury suffered in Game 5 was easily the lowest moment of the season and it threw the Rockets off their path. So much went the Rockets way this season, but at the finish line, it didn’t.
Even without CP3, the Rockets had double-digit leads in Game 6 and Game 7. Both were winnable games, especially last night’s nine-point loss in Game 7. But as deceiving as it looked, the luck was not there for the Rockets, but it was for the Warriors. Again.
When you face the Warriors, every team needs a little luck. But this season, I think the Rockets proved that as well. You need a little luck to beat the Rockets, and the Warriors got that. Chris Paul aside, the Warriors got lucky in this series. Shots went their way in Game 7. They made their open threes, and the Rockets did not. They missed many, 37 to be exact.
If I had one criticism for the Rockets in Game 7, it would be that they did not abandon the three sooner. The Rockets saw a small gasp of life when they cut the lead to six late in the fourth quarter after driving for a pair of layups, but the Warriors stretched the lead even further.
But this is why Daryl Morey acquired CP3 in June. The team we saw last night resembled many shades of last year’s team, a team that lived and died by the three. And they died by the three because they didn’t have the one thing that set them apart from last year’s team to bail them out and change the offense.
But when you miss as many threes as Houston did, that isn’t just from bad shooting. The Rockets simply could not catch a break. And when the Warriors make 41 percent of their threes, it isn’t just from good shooting, a little luck has to be involved. And considering the whistle seemed to favor the Warriors getting away with some blatant no-calls, luck was on the Warriors’ side in the series.
This isn’t to take away from the Warriors and their series victory. They deserved to win the series but the Rockets made it as difficult for them as they could. There is no place to put the blame on the loss. The Warriors are one of the greatest teams ever assembled and needed seven games to send the Rockets home.
In a seven-game series, with both teams at full strength, there is an argument that the series has a different outcome. This team was that good. It was the closest any team has come to dethroning the KD-era Warriors, but it wasn’t meant to be.
So, Rockets fans, getting mad makes sense, and it probably stems from the pride you have from this team, but the emotions I am expressing today are frustration and disappointment. Knowing that the Rockets did everything in their power both on and off the court, and to come as close as they did and not win is frustrating and disappointing.
But, that’s the NBA.
You can go as far as you can on skill and talent and the system you set in place, but so much has to go right if you want to reach the pinnacle, and for the Rockets, all the stars were aligned, until they weren’t.