Ladies and gentlemen, the Western Conference Finals officially has a victor.
And just like the last three years before, the team that has been there before, won over the team that hasn’t. The Golden State Warriors, winner of two of the last three NBA Finals, advanced to the biggest stage for the fourth straight season with a hard fought 101-92 win over the Houston Rockets.
This series had basically been on every ball-a-holic’s calendar since the Rockets traded for Chris Paul last summer, and anyone with a pulse had been billing this as “the true NBA Finals”. And as far as competition goes, this series was truly the hardest test Golden State has ever had in their current run. But at the end, if you’ve been watching basketball for long enough, you had to know that the Warriors would find a way to defeat Houston and sure enough, they did so by letting Houston beat themselves.
Say what you want about the Chris Paul injury, and yes that was unfortunate. But the fact is that Golden State did what championship teams do best, and that is remain composed, recognize your opponent’s weakness and exploit it until they beat themselves. Game 7 was a perfect example of that, as Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni made the same mistake that has plagued him throughout his coaching career: he refused to adjust his game plan.
Houston set a playoff record on Monday night by missing 27 straight three-pointers en route to possibly the worst shooting performance from the arc ever, as the team went 7-of-44 from three-point range. While the team was the best three-point shooting team in the league and also the best offense, this series was not their finest hour. In the last five games of the series, the Rockets were held under 100 points; and anyone who knows basketball knows that you’re not beating the Warriors with that kind of scoring output.
Golden State may have not played their best basketball, either; but when it came down to who wanted it the most, they did what champions do. In Game Six, Klay Thompson buried nine threes; in Game Seven, “Chef” Stephen Curry nearly had a triple-double (27 pts, 10 ast, 9 reb) and Draymond Green had another double-double performance with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Kevin Durant, who was brought to Oakland to deliver in games like this, had himself a nice 34-point game.
Houston, for the most part, out-hustled Golden State for most of this series. However, when Chris Paul went out with a right hamstring injury, it seemed like the competitive fire went out. In Game Six, Houston led by 18 at one point only to lose the game by 29 when the Warriors went on their patented third-quarter barnburner sprees. Then, in Game 7, the Rockets led by 11 at halftime, only to be outscored 33-15 in the third stanza.
Even the home crowd, who had been heckling the Warriors from the pregame intro, couldn’t light a fire under the Rockets. While they were only outscored by two in the final quarter, the damage had already been done.
Let’s give Houston some credit; they gave Golden State a run for their money and honestly could’ve taken this series. But at the end of the day, the Golden State Warriors have proven that they are for real. They built this new dynasty from the ground up organically: Curry, Green and Thompson were all drafted by the Warriors. Yes, they signed Durant, but can you blame him? When you have a team that is unselfish and seems to have an answer to anything a team can throw at you, you’d be willing to give up a little bit to sign with them, too.
And now, we are looking at the first Western Conference team to make four consecutive Finals appearances since the 2001-04 Lakers; and the first time that the same teams have faced each other in four consecutive Finals in league history as they will face the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If Golden State manages to win the championship, they will set themselves up to be in the conversation for most dominant team in the 21st century.