Houston blew a chance to take control of the Western Conference semi-finals on Wednesday night. They had a chance to end a dynasty. And they failed.
That’s painful to say, but it’s the truth.
No one wanted Kevin Durant to get hurt. The injury sucks, not just because all injuries suck but because the league and playoffs are better with him in it. With that being said, Houston has to take advantage of his absence in the same way that Golden State took advantage of Chris Paul’s hamstring injury last season. The Rockets must win at home in Game 6 to force a decisive Game 7 back at Oracle.
While it would appear that Houston’s job will become a lot easier with Durant out, that’s a naive approach. The core a 73-win regular season team is still available to the Warriors, and Steph Curry and Klay Thompson found themselves in Game 5. In fact, Steph started running the Harden isolation offense to great effect. What’s more, the Warriors can open up their playbook and run more plays rather than “Give the ball to KD and let him go to work.” While that plan of attack has been successful, the Warriors are not a one-trick pony like others because they have four other All-Stars on their team. Expect plenty of ball movement and long-range bombs from the Dubs in this one. They can go back to the basics of their foundation tonight and that’s a scary prospect for Houston.
Rebounds have clearly been the best predictive factor in the series so far, and tonight will be no different. With Kevon Looney likely to get more minutes than normal, Houston will have to find a way to keep him off the boards. In general, Houston has to dominate the Golden State bench in a way that they haven’t yet in this series. Curry or Thompson will probably be on the court at all times, but it’s up to Houston to make them pay. A vintage CP3 game would be nice.
It’s difficult not to think about what a loss here would mean. While the pressure was fully on Golden State to win Game 5, that same pressure is now fully on the Rockets. If they cannot win at home against the Warriors sans Durant, they will have to take another long look in the mirror this summer. You can only “run it back” so many times before the players start to lose belief in their ability to achieve the ultimate goal of a championship. A lot of people’s reputations are at stake tonight, from Daryl Morey to Paul to Mike D’Antoni. But more than anyone else, tonight rests on the Beard.
Tonight marks another chance for James Harden to redeem his Game 6 stinker against the San Antonio Spurs two seasons ago in this same round. With Kawhi Leonard injured and a must-win game at Toyota Center, Harden laid an egg. Tonight’s situation almost completely mirrors that one (these Warriors are obviously better than those Spurs), so this could be the continuation of Harden’s redemption arc or more fodder for the talking heads. Houston brought in CP3 for games like this to prevent a repeat of that horrid Game 6 experience, so once again it’s imperative that he stay aggressive and contribute in his minutes.
There’s a chance this is the last game preview of the season. I said my thank yous in the final game preview of the regular season, so I’ll just quickly thank all of you that have read this far. Hopefully you’ll see a Game 7 preview on Sunday (and more beyond that), but I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to show my gratitude.
Tip-off is at 8pm CT on ESPN