The next round won’t be this easy. It can’t be. The Warriors are good, very good, record-setting good, and the Houston Rockets were, well, not very good at all. The Rockets probably shouldn’t have been in the playoffs.
For certain they weren’t at all in Wednesday night’s game. Figuratively, of course. Literally, that’s open for debate.
The Dubs, Golden State to the unfamiliar, made a joke of this one, the one that mercifully ended the first round, the Warriors breezing, 114-81, before the obligatory sellout of 19,596 at Oracle, and taking the series four games to one-half. Yes, it was really was four to one, but because the only Rockets win was on a last-second basket the NBA said shouldn’t have counted, we’ll only award Houston half a game.
Even with Steph Curry and his injured right knee on the bench, except for some pre-game ritualistic bobbing and weaving with his teammates, the Warriors had no trouble.
Playing magnificent defense — other than James Harden, in the first quarter, Houston had the same number of baskets as Curry, none — the W’s were ahead by 20 before halftime, as much as 34 in the fourth quarter.
But now the next step, likely against the Portland Trail Blazers, likely Sunday at Oracle. And still without Curry, who’s not due back for another week and a half, at least. The Blazers did win a game from the Dubs during the regular season, but the only reason they’ll escape their opening series was the L.A. Clippers lost two stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, with injuries.
“We had good focus,” said Klay Thompson. “In the locker room we did not want to make a trip across the country.”
Or two-third of the country, to Houston, for Game 6, and won’t.
“We’re going to enjoy the night,” said Thompson, who must have done that scoring 27 points on 10-of-14, including 7 of 7 on 3-pointers. “But now we’ve got a tough opponent.”
At least tougher than Houston, which couldn’t shake loose from a Warriors defense that has been strong the last month. The first quarter the Rockets were 6-of-23, and James Harden who would end the game with 35 points, had the six baskets — meaning the other Rockets, all of them, were zip for 15.
“It all starts with our defense,” said the Warriors’ Steve Kerr, who before the game was presented his trophy for NBA Coach of the Year. “Our defense allows us to get out and run. … We don’t want to slow things down.”
Shaun Livingston, who’s been through his own knee agony, his career supposedly at an end after a dislocation nine years ago, started in place of Curry. And while he didn’t even take a single 3-pointer, Livingston did make seven of eight field goal attempts, scoring 16.
“If it wasn’t for the injury,” Kerr said of Livingston, who needed years to recover, “he would be in the superstar category. There’s just something about him. He’s very smart and mature. He had to do so much to come back.”
Houston interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he thinks even without Curry the Warriors are one of the two best teams in the conference — along with San Antonio.
“I have no idea where we would line up against the rest of the league without Steph,” said Kerr, “but I do feel confident we can win games without Steph.”
They certainly won them from the Rockets, but that’s no surprise. Even without Curry, as their slogan proclaims, the Warriors have strength in numbers.