Beat the New Orleans Pelicans. Check. Beat the Memphis Grizzlies. Check. It’s two series down, and ultimately, two to go for the Warriors in the NBA playoffs.
In other words, the Warriors are only halfway to their goal, which tells you about the enormity of the postseason challenge. Making it to the Western Conference finals for the first time in 39 years is a great accomplishment. Winning an NBA Championship for just the second time in 40 years would be even better. Needless to say, expectations are high.
Now bring on the Houston Rockets.
The Rockets recorded an exciting and at times dominating seven-game victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in the conference semifinals. Yet most folks seem to feel that this matchup will be easy for the Warriors because of the way they dominated the regular-season series. To do so, however, would be foolish.
First of all, the last time these teams met was back in January. The first game was in Houston, where the Dubs blew out the home team by a 131-106 score. The next encounter was in Oakland, where the home team prevailed by a 126-113 count. But much can and often does change in four months.
After reviewing the statistics of the teams, I took only the two January games into consideration. I dismissed what happened back in November and December. Regular-season games that far back are pretty much irrelevant to what we may expect in the playoffs.
What stands out is, the Rockets have had trouble containing the explosive backcourt of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. Thompson lit up the Rockets for an average of 27 points in those two games, when he shot 6 of 13 from beyond the 3-point arc. Curry scored 27 and 22 points, while taking only 13 3-pointers, hitting five of them. He also dished out 11 assists in the blowout on the road.
Meanwhile, the big two for the Rockets — James Harden and Dwight Howard — didn’t fare nearly as well. Harden had 12 and 33 points, shooting 12 of 33 from the field and only 3 of 10 from 3-point range in the two games. Howard was even less effective, scoring only 23 and seven and pulling down 10 and 11 rebounds. If Houston expects to win the series, its two most talented and visible players will have to perform at much higher levels to pull off an upset.
Of course, not all games are won by the star players. In Game 7 of the Clippers-Rockets series, Trevor Ariza’s 22 points on 6-of-12 shooting from 3-point land essentially propelled the Rockets into the conference finals. In the last two games against the Warriors, however, he was held to seven and six points, respectively. In what may very well be a high-scoring affair, the Rockets will need a third scorer to step up, whether it’s Ariza or veteran Josh Smith or someone else.
I believe the Dubs have yet to play a game in the playoffs where they executed at peak efficiency at both ends of the court for at least 40 minutes. They do seem to be getting better as the playoffs move forward, and I feel sorry for any opponent if the trend continues.
As always, the outcome will be determined on the court, not on paper. But I like the Warriors in both places, and I expect them to win the series in five or six games.
Rick Barry played eight season for the Warriors and was the captain of their only Bay Area NBA championship team. In 1987, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His commentary will appear exclusively in The San Francisco Examiner throughout the playoffs.