The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets showdown that all of us have been salivating over is looking more and more certain after the two teams’ respective second round openers. The Warriors romped their way to a 123-101 win over a streaking New Orleans Pelicans team led by Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. A day later, it was the Rockets turn to produce an emphatic win, running away from the Jazz, 112-96.
Granted, these are just Game 1s of a seven-game series, but things are already looking grim for both the Pels and the Jazz. New Orleans’ best chance of exposing the Warriors’ vulnerability would have been to steal Game 1 without Golden State having Steph Curry in the fold. But Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green all played like the All-Stars that they are. They also managed to slow Davis and Holiday down, exposing the Pels’ glaring lack of depth in the process. New Orleans still has a chance to steal home court advantage with a Game 2 win, but it’s going to have to do it against a Warriors team that will have Curry back. Welp.
Meanwhile, the Jazz have proven themselves as capable of bouncing back from Game 1 losses. They just did it in the last series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. But with respects to the Thunder, the Rockets are a completely different animal altogether. They were the best team during the regular season, and they showed in their own first-round series against the Minnesota Timberwolves that the can play like shit and still find a way to win. The Jazz’s margin for error is also a lot smaller now that it’s been confirmed that Ricky Rubio, one of the driving forces in the series win against the Thunder, will be out for the “weeks.” The Jazz still has the better chance of making it a series with the Rockets compared to the Pels against the Warriors, but make no mistake, barring a catastrophic injury to Harden, and, to a lesser extent, Paul, the Rockets should have no problem dispatching the Jazz in five or six games.
All this points to the inevitable conclusion. Forget the West, the collision course between the two best teams in the NBA seems more certain than ever now.
The Warriors and the Rockets have circled each other for the entire season, waiting for the moment when they’ll end up facing each other for the right to become the odds-on favorite to win the NBA title. They only met three times in the regular season with Houston owning a 2-1 record. But that number belies how incredibly close all three games were. The first meeting took place on opening night with Houston surviving a 122-121 victory, all because Kevin Durant’s would-be game-winner left his hands 0.5 seconds too late.
Go back and watch highlights of that game. That was the same game Chris Paul went down with an injury that forced him to miss a full month. Even without him, the Rockets managed to win by the thinnest of margins on the shoulders of James Harden, Eric Gordon, and PJ Tucker, all of whom dropped at least 20 in that game.
The Warriors returned the favor in their second-meeting, winning in Houston, 124-114. That game had two notable absences, though, as both Harden and Durant were in street clothes. A few weeks later, the two teams played again in what would be their last match up of the season. The Rockets took that game, 116-108, because CP3 went nuts to the tune of a 33-11-7 line.
If those three games taught us anything, it’s that both teams are evenly matched from top to bottom. With Curry set to return in Game 2 against New Orleans, the stage is being set up quite nicely.
There’s still a possibility that Anthony Davis can revert back to his destroyer-of-worlds form and improbably take down the defending champs. There’s also a chance that Donovan Mitchell can elevate his game even further against the Rockets. But given how Golden State and Houston played in their respective series openers, it might not matter if Davis and/or Mitchell go supernova. The Warriors and Rockets are just better than the Pelicans and Jazz. There’s no shame in that.
None of us should feel bad, though. After all, this is the matchup we’ve all been waiting for. Sometimes, the stars just align long enough for us to have our wishes granted.