The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets will play in Texas on Thursday night, in a Pivotal Game 5™ of a Western Conference finals knotted at two games apiece. The Rockets are the home team, favored by a point, and coming off a thrilling Game 4 win in which they survived a couple of trademark Golden State haymakers — a 12-0 run to start the game, a Stephen Curry-fueled 25-8 avalanche midway through the third quarter — to dominate the fourth quarter against a star-studded Warriors core that burned incandescent too early and faded away too quickly.
That finish — Houston extending its defense to short-circuit Golden State’s vaunted Hall of Famer-laden offense, Chris Paul taking the game in his hands in the last 12 minutes to ward off a 3-1 deficit, the Warriors buckling because the Rockets just wouldn’t stop pushing — came two nights after Curry and the Dubs had absolutely annihilated Paul, James Harden and company, handing them a 41-point loss that stands as the most lopsided defeat in franchise playoff history. That matters.
Knowing everything is stupid
After that game, which saw Curry break free from beyond the arc after two games under wraps, an awful lot of fans, writers and talking heads proclaimed the series over, and the season over. OK, the Warriors are awake. Six straight wins, maybe a second straight gentleman’s sweep coming in the finals if we’re lucky. Fun while it lasted, everybody. See you at the draft. Except … y’know … [expletive] happens.
Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson knock knees, and all of a sudden the Warriors — a team carrying six centers For, Um, Reasons, a roster-management decision that many smart people pointed to as a source of concern throughout the regular season, and that has become a glaring issue now — were really and truly relying on Nick Young in a major way in the Western Conference finals. After suffering the slings and arrows of his years-long inability to get past the second round of the postseason, and after going 5-for-16 in Sunday’s 41-point decimation, Paul is suddenly Chris Bleeping Paul in the most important minutes of the biggest game of his NBA career, throwing passes that look like optical illusions, answering Steph monster 3 for monster 3, and setting the table for game-winners.
Suddenly, the kind of shots the Warriors always hit aren’t actually going in. Suddenly, the team with four All-Stars and a championship pedigree can’t get a clean look with the game on the line. Suddenly, the outcome we all knew for sure was coming — Warriors up 3-1, with a chance to close it out on the road after stealing home-court in Houston in Game 1 — wasn’t what we actually had. Where once there was an expectation of inevitability, now there existed possibility.
That’s why we watch, isn’t it? Because of sports’ capacity to take all of our carefully crafted preconceptions, formed through barstool arguments, nuanced game film/Xs-and-Os breakdowns, statistical deep dives and all the rest of it, and deposit it directly in the trash can. To remind us that we don’t know everything — that, for the most part, we don’t know anything — and that that can actually be a pretty freaking cool thing, because this isn’t a test, so what the hell’s the fun in having the answer key?
The possibility of something new is good
It’s why everyone got so mad at Kevin Durant for signing with the Warriors, fearing that his defection to the Bay presaged the dawn of a new dynasty whose shadow would envelop the NBA for years to come. That air of invincibility lasted one year. Now, thanks to Harden and Paul making it work, and to Mike D’Antoni embracing change, and to Daryl Morey anteing up, the Warriors have to beat a 65-win team on the road at least one more time to get the chance to defend their titles in the championship round.
Maybe they will! Maybe a Warriors team “pissed off” after the way they finished Game 4 comes out on fire. Maybe they’re better able to exploit the (better-than-you-might-think) defense of Harden to break down the Rockets’ on-a-string standard and small-ball units. Better still, maybe they flip their recent isolation-heavy script, look for more opportunities to run, and to get Curry rolling in pick-and-rolls with Durant and Draymond Green that set the two-time MVP up for a barrage of 3s.
Maybe they never let up, and leave no doubt that they are, in fact, the one and only superteam this league has to offer. Maybe the Warriors do steamroll to another title, only this time their coronation feels just a bit richer because we saw them have to really sweat to earn it. That wouldn’t suck!
Or … y’know … maybe [expletive] happens again. Maybe Harden goes for 50, CP3 lines up a triple-double, the Tuckwagon runs roughshod, and the Warriors feel wall on back for the first time since the fourth quarter of Game 7, 2016. (Which, you might remember, was the last time something we all knew for sure was going to happen didn’t actually wind up happening, and wasn’t too bad to watch, all things considered.)
Maybe chaos reigns, and we see something new. Whether that’d be better than what we’ve already seen might depend on what color jersey you’re wearing to watch tonight, but I mean, that wouldn’t suck either, now would it?
Game 5 tips off in a few hours, and man, your guess is as good as mine. I don’t know what the hell’s going to happen. In a third round that’s been more fizzle than fireworks, the not-knowing feels pretty OK; in fact, it feels like kind of the whole point.
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