Del Olaleye: Are the Rockets just another speed bump on the Warriors' path to history?
Can 12 minutes wipe away a season’s worth of accomplishments? Maybe. The Rockets watched a 65-win season and a No. 1 seed go by the wayside after the Warriors outscored them 31-24 in the third quarter of Game 1. A game that was tied at the half turned into a run-away-and-hide game for the defending champs. An obsession with the Warriors pushed Daryl Morey to try to build a team that could compete with and beat the Warriors. Whether the Rockets can do that is still to be determined but initial polling isn’t favorable.
The issue for the Rockets is that there may be nothing that can be done to catch the Warriors. At least not as they’re presently constituted. I saw one Rockets fan tweet “We need to sign Lebron.” That actually may be the only answer. That just speaks to the greatness of the Warriors. Signing the best player in a generation may help a 65-win team beat Golden State. That is an offseason conversation and one that should be had if you believe the gap between the Warriors can’t be closed by internal improvement. I’m in the “this series was over before it started” faction and Game 1 had nothing to do with it.
The opener of the Western Conference finals was a continuation of what we’ve seen from the Rockets over the last thirty games or so. They entered the playoffs playing average basketball and that subpar play didn’t end even as they dispatched of the Wolves and the Jazz. While their defense has been outstanding against two outmatched opponents the offense has lagged behind. The devastating spurts of offensive brilliance for the Rockets have been few and far between this postseason as their defense has carried them. They entered the series playing at a level that wouldn’t get the job done and facing the Warriors in Game 1 exposed things the Jazz and Wolves were incapable of doing.
That smothering Rockets defense that I talked about earlier didn’t make an appearance in the opener. Defensive lapses that brought back the memories of previous Rockets teams happened far too often. Warriors wide open 3s off of made Houston buckets cost the Rockets dearly. When they did happen to get back on defense, simple back cuts led to easy Golden State layups. In a series with little margin for error, the Rockets defense didn’t play to a level that respected the importance of each possession.
A Game 2 win for Houston changes the energy but not the problems that will exist over the course of the series for the Rockets. Can the Rockets maintain a level of excellence over the next four out of six games that will be needed to earn a trip to the Finals? The talent disparity is an obvious hinderance to that. That disparity doesn’t just manifest itself in one on one matchups but also in how much pressure is felt to play a perfect ball game.
There isn’t any shame in a possible Warriors destruction of the Rockets. Only that guy I mentioned earlier with the last name of James has beaten them in a series since Steve Kerr was hired. The Warriors responded to that defeat by adding the second best player in the world immediately. They haven’t been challenged since.
Are the Rockets just the latest in a line of unmemorable teams that the Warriors run over in their dynasty? Game 2 might give us our answer.