Series Recap: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets

The Golden State Warriors faced their first series deficit since the 2016 NBA Finals in this matchup with the Houston Rockets. However, the Warriors eventually triumphed in a hard-fought seven-game series that earned them a fourth straight berth in the NBA Finals.

The NBA Finals will start on Thursday, but the two best teams in the NBA have already battled it out for the title of the best team in basketball. The Houston Rockets took a 3-2 series lead in Game 5, but their victory was not without cost. Chris Paul injured his hamstring in the closing minutes of that fifth game and missed the final two contests of the series, robbing NBA fans of what could have been an even more epic battle for the ages.

While many fans could argue that the Warriors got lucky with the timing of CP3's injury, they ultimately could only face the team that was in front of them. After narrowly escaping against the Rockets, the Warriors have a much easier road ahead in their fourth consecutive Finals battle with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The end result of that series is almost a foregone conclusion; the Warriors have conquered their toughest playoff opponent since the arrival of Kevin Durant, and are all but guaranteed to walk away from this season with yet another NBA title.

Game 1: Golden State 119, Houston 106

Charles Barkley declared after this game that anyone who thought that the Rockets would have a chance in this series was delusional, and only semi-jokingly predicted that the Warriors would win in three. While that statement was premature, to say the least, it was easy to see why Barkley felt that way after the Warriors turned a game that was tied after two quarters into a comfortable win with yet another stellar third quarter.

James Harden (41 points on 24 shots) and Chris Paul (23 points and 11 rebounds) both played excellent basketball, but the Rockets still lost by double digits en route to surrendering home court advantage after one game. Steph Curry had a quiet night on the offensive end, but that was irrelevant on a night where Durant and Klay combined for 65 points. Game 1 certainly seemed to be a solid rebuke for anyone that thought that the Warriors could be toppled.

Game 2: Houston 127, Golden State 105

After a dispiriting Game 1 loss, the Rockets appeared to be on track for a rough and forgettable series loss to the presumed champions from Oakland. Reporters and fans alike criticized Houston's isolation-heavy offense, declaring that it would never work against the Warriors. Instead of surrendering to the pressure and changing their game plan, however, Houston bounced back from their tough loss to open the series with a thoroughly dominant Game 2 performance. The Rockets outscored the Warriors in all four quarter en route to a 22-point drubbing.

Golden State's star backcourt struggled mightily in this game, combining for just 24 points on 30 shots. James Harden outscored Curry and Klay by himself--as did Eric Gordon with 27 points off the bench. P.J. Tucker also had the game of his life, with 22 points and five triples on just nine shots. Tucker's outstanding performance, however, made this win seem less dominant; after all, regression to the mean was almost bound to happen.

Game 3: Golden State 126, Houston 85

The Rockets' offense would have been hard-pressed to repeat their incredible outing from Game 2. The Warriors' offense was also bound to improve after terrible Game 2 performances from both of their All-Star guards. This game took both of those presumed returns to the mean and blew them out of the water, just as the Warriors blew out the Rockets in a merciless Game 3 drubbing.

James Harden played a solid but not dominant game, and Clint Capela was the only other starter that played well in this game. The rest of the team did not exactly live up to expectations. Houston shot 39.5% from the floor despite Harden's decent 7-16 shooting and Capela's 6-9 mark from the field. The Warriors did not let up even after the game had been decided; they outscored the Rockets 38-18 in the fourth quarter to turn a 21-point beatdown into a 41-point embarrassment. After this game, it seemed all but inevitable that the Warriors would quickly close out the series.

Game 4: Houston 95, Golden State 92

The Rockets could have laid down and given up after the Warriors opened the game with a 12-0 run. They could have given up after the first quarter when the Warriors still held a nine-point lead. They certainly could have given up after the Warriors rode a 34-17 third quarter to a double-digit lead entering the fourth quarter. Instead of surrendering, however, the Rockets put the clamps on the Warriors in the fourth quarter to eke out a 95-92 win.

This game ultimately came down to the battle of the backcourts. Steph Curry and James Harden basically played each other to a draw, as they led their respective teams in scoring despite their relative inefficiency. However, Chris Paul thoroughly outplayed Klay Thompson on both ends of the floor; Kevin Durant's 27 points (albeit also on relatively inefficient shooting) were not enough to close the gap.

Game 5: Houston 98, Golden State 94

Unlike Game 4, which was a game of runs on both sides, Game 5 was a close contest from start to finish. There were 16 lead changes in Game 5--three more than in the previous three games combined. The Rockets managed to prevail, and in doing so they became the first team to hold a series lead over Golden State in the Kevin Durant era.

Unfortunately for all NBA fans outside of the Bay Area, however, Chris Paul injured his hamstring in the closing seconds of this game. The impact of Paul's injury was a hot topic over the final few games of the series and is a topic that will certainly come up again if the Warriors (as expected) plow through the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Game 6: Golden State 115, Houston 86

The Rockets put together an incredible opening quarter in this game. They outscored the Warriors 39-22 in the opening period and left many wondering about whether Houston could prevail even with Chris Paul on the sidelines. Then, the Warriors decided to show up. Golden State outscored the Rockets 93-47 after that opening period and left little doubt about their ability to clinch the series in Houston.

Even though it did not ultimately affect the outcome of this game (or this series), that first quarter dud should still be a concern for the Warriors. While this team has been able to coast through the first half of most of their playoff games with full confidence in their ability to pull out a win in the third quarter, the lack of focus that the Warriors displayed in that first quarter would be troubling if they were about to face a difficult challenge in the Finals.

Game 7: Golden State 101, Houston 92

It would be hard to argue that a healthy Chris Paul would have given the Rockets a chance in Game 6. Even though one could say that Paul's presence would have steadied the team and prevented the Warriors' runs in the second and third quarters (or that his presence would have given the Rockets another scoring option in their abysmal nine-point fourth quarter), it seems pretty unlikely that Paul could have erased a 29-point deficit on his own.

However, it would not be hard to argue that Chris Paul's presence would have changed this game. The Rockets' 11-point halftime lead might have been 15 or 20 with CP3 on the floor. The Rockets might have been able to keep the Warriors' third-quarter advantage within ten points with Paul out there as opposed to the 33-15 drubbing that they suffered after the halftime buzzer. The Warriors could only face the teams in front of them, and Zaza Pachulia had nothing to do with this years' series-altering injury. Still, the Rockets had a solid chance in this series before Paul went down and kept this game close even with CP3 on the sidelines. NBA fans will have to hope that the Rockets can keep this team together to make another run at the Warriors.

Up Next: Cleveland Cavaliers

The NBA Finals will be a pretty sizeable letdown after two intensely competitive seven-game Conference Finals battles. This will be Round Four of Warriors-Cavaliers, and the matchup has never been less even. LeBron might have been without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving for most of the 2015 Finals, but the Warriors did not have Kevin Durant that year.

This time around, Love is questionable for the series opener after a Game 6 concussion and Kyrie Irving is somewhere in the greater Boston area recovering from his second surgery this offseason. If anyone could topple the Golden State Goliath, it is LeBron James. After his performance in the 2016 Finals, doubting LeBron's superhuman capabilities seems like a huge mistake. However, no one man (even LeBron) can end the Warriors' reign by himself and James is surrounded by his weakest supporting cast since the 2007 Finals. This year's championship round will likely be anticlimactic, and the Warriors are poised to secure their third title in the last four years.

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