Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
May 2, 2019
Game 5 of last season’s Western Conference Finals, as well as the series’ ensuing games, were a monumental moment in the Golden State Warriors’ current dynastical run. Tied 2-2 in the best-of-seven set with the Houston Rockets, Golden State entered a hostile Toyota Center environment looking for a pivotal victory in Game 5. With a win, the Warriors would have gone back to Oracle Arena with a 3-2 series lead, one win removed from the franchise’s fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.
Instead, the Rockets prevailed.
Houston’s Chris Paul gloriously mocked Warriors guard Stephen Curry, using his patented ‘shimmy’ celebration in front of him.
Then, with mere seconds remaining in regulation and Houston possessing a two-point lead, Curry passed the ball on a fast break opportunity to an unsuspecting Draymond Green, who fumbled the rock.
Eric Gordon proceeded to nail two free throws for Houston, icing the game and putting the Rockets up by four.
At long last, the Kevin Durant-era Warriors appeared truly fallible. It was polarizing, fresh and fun.
Paul ended up injuring his groin toward the end of Game 5, however, ending his season. The Rockets would lose the series as Golden State would go on to win its third NBA title in four seasons. Houston missed Paul dearly in that series’ final two games.
Fast forward one year, and the Western Conference’s top-seeded Warriors now own a 2-0 lead over the Rockets in the semifinal round. Paul is healthy, but is also one year older (he’ll be 34 on May 6). Key contributor Trevor Ariza no longer plays for the Rockets. The two teams may be facing each other again, but this year’s postseason meeting has a much different feel to it.
“That’s what I want,” Houston center Clint Capela told reporters on April 25 in response to a question about Golden State. “I want to face them.”
As a fan, it’s what I wanted, too. I wanted to see Golden State and Houston run it back.
But barring a complete shift in the series’ momentum, a Houston triumph appears highly unlikely. Even in the event that Houston manages to win both Games 3 & 4, the Rockets will still face an enormous uphill battle against the defending champs. Unlike last year, a potential Game 5 would take place in Oakland, as would a potentially decisive Game 7.
As evidenced by Golden State’s six-game series with the Clippers in the first round, the Warriors can be prone to lame, uninspired play at times — specifically on the defensive end of the floor.
That’s what allowed Los Angeles to win Game 2 at Oracle after trailing by 31 points at one point. Once again, it showed the almighty Warriors in a vulnerable light, though it was ultimately inconsequential.
Unfortunately for the rest of the NBA, it seems as though the Warriors are truly the only ones capable of dethroning themselves.
Houston had its best shot last season, and gave the Warriors one hell of a series. It’s a shame that that’s likely the closest anyone will ever come to beating this iteration of the Dubs. Paul’s groin injury will live in infamy for that reason alone.
If Golden State overcomes Houston, it’ll face the winner of the Denver-Portland series in the Western Conference Finals. Then, assuming the Warriors don’t self-destruct, they’ll face one of Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia or Boston in the NBA Finals.
Milwaukee is intriguing because of MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo & Co. Toronto boasts an impressive core of Kawhi Leonard, rising star Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry. Philadelphia could be dangerous if Joel Embiid can remain healthy. Boston is perhaps the East’s deepest team, but has little top-level talent other than All-Star guard Kyrie Irving.
It’s reasonable for NBA fans to hope and wish for a competitive NBA Finals, but anything beyond that will be because of the Warriors’ own doing. If the unit stays healthy and engaged, the Larry O’Brien Trophy will almost assuredly return to the Bay Area for the fourth time in the past five years.
As a fan, I hope I’m wrong.
Both my brain and my gut tell me otherwise.
These Warriors, with Curry, Green, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala & Co., are simply too good.