The Rockets season came to a predictable end on Friday night with a 118-113 loss to the Warriors. Three key points from the loss:
1) Chris Paul heard the criticism
He responded with a terrific game, his best of the playoffs. He scored 27 points, had 11 rebounds and kept the Rockets in the game. The Rockets needed a vintage Paul game and they got it. Unfortunately it was not enough.
2) Splash brothers do it again
Steph Curry was awful in the first half, and the teams were tied. That did not bode well for the Rockets. Curry would finish with 33 points and Klay Thompson 27 and the Warriors guards were too good.
3) Just not good enough
It's hard to fault James Harden, who scored 35. Curry and Thompson matched Harden and Paul, and the Warriors bench dominated, and that was the difference in the game. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season and the Rockets once again come up short. The reality is they simply aren't good enough to beat the Warriors, with or without Kevin Durant. The off-season begins now, and there are plenty of questions to be answered. Is Paul done? Is Mike D'Antoni the right coach? Can the Rockets ever elevate their game and get past Golden State? They were not good enough. Again. And another season ends in disappointment.
After Houston fell to the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the ALCS, the national media couldn't wait to pile on the Astros, their dynasty, and fanbase. A perfect example of this came from Dan Clark, who said the Astros choked or cheated in every season outside of 2022.
The Houston Astros have been great for nine years, but how will history look back at them, winning it all just once?
'15 - ALDS choke
'16 - Missed playoffs
'17 - Cheated
'18 - ALCS choke
'19 - World Series choke
'20 - ALCS choke
'21 - World Series choke
'22 - 💍
'23 - ALCS choke
— Dan Clark (@DanClarkSports) October 24, 2023
Clearly, this take is totally ridiculous. Every time a team loses, it doesn't mean they choked. Sometimes the other team is better, and you just got beat. However, if you asked most fans, they would probably tell you the Astros had some great opportunities and weren't able to cash in.
So, just for fun, let's go through Dan's list and discuss if he has a point. And these are just my opinions below. I'm sure plenty of Astros fans will feel differently, and that's fine. John and I don't agree on all of these in the video above, so be sure to watch for the full discussion.
With that disclaimer out of the way, off we go.
2015: These were the baby Astros. Nobody expected them to get to the division series against the Royals. Houston went 70-92 the previous season, so this was a big jump in 2015. They lost to the Royals in 5 games in the ALDS and Kansas City went on to win the World Series over the Mets, taking the series 4 games to 1. The Astros did lead this series 2-1, but lost Games 4 and 5 pretty convincingly. Not a choke.
2016: Didn't even make the playoffs, further proving 2015 wasn't a choke. This team wasn't ready yet. They exceeded expectations in 2015 and took a step back in 2016. Not a choke.
2017: Won the World Series. While Dan will say it doesn't count because they cheated, I say, at least they won. Houston fans are well aware the Dodgers and Yankees had their own style of funny business going on in the video rooms, too. At least the Astros didn't cheat AND lose that year. They won the title so clearly, not a choke.
2018: Boston won the most games in baseball during the regular season (108). They won the ALCS 4 games to 1 over Houston and went on to win the World Series. The ALCS series wasn't close, and Jose Altuve had knee surgery immediately following the season. Boston was later punished by MLB for cheating in 2018. Not a choke.
2019: He might have a point here. This was the best roster the Astros ever had in my opinion. Houston never won a home game in this World Series. Heading home with a 3-2 lead in the series, the Astros were unable to close the deal against the Nationals (sounds familiar). The Astros won 107 games in the regular season, more than any other team. The top of their rotation was Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke. They choked.
2020: This was the weird covid season. The Astros didn't have a winning record in the regular season and got down 3-0 to the Rays in the ALCS. Houston won three straight and lost in Game 7. Both Justin Verlander and Yordan Alvarez were injured and unavailable that year. Not a choke.
2021: The Braves were just better and won the World Series in 6 games. Atlanta hammered Houston 7-0 in Game 6, securing the series. Lance McCullers was the ace of this squad and hurt his arm in the ALDS. Verlander didn't pitch in 2021. Not a choke.
2022: Astros win the World Series in 6 games against Philly.
2023: This one I could be convinced either way. I lean to it not being a choke because this team barely made the playoffs, winning just 90 games. They finished with the same record as the Rangers, and won the division because of head-to-head record. The Astros were down 2-0 in the series to start.
However, they did return to Houston up 3-2 needing only 1 win in 2 games to advance. But once again, the Astros couldn't win a game at home, and lost the series in 7 games. They also went 2-14 with runners in scoring position in Game 7, so that looks pretty bad. Inconsistency plagued this team all season, and it showed up again in the ALCS.
I'm willing to say the 2019 World Series against the Nationals was a choke for the reasons I listed above. And I'm kinda on the fence about 2023. The Rangers were the better team for most of the regular season, but not winning 1 game at home in the ALCS is hard to ignore.
Maybe you can convince me one way or the other in the comments! Go 'Stros!