Houston came back from a 3-1 series deficit in 2015 to topple the Clippers. What lessons can the 73-win Warriors take from that storybook Rockets turnaround?
By now everyone not living under a rock is aware that the mighty, historic, record-breaking Golden State Warriors are facing elimination and a 3-1 series deficit. The Oklahoma City Thunder have flipped the basketball zeitgeist on its head, reducing the Warriors to a shadow of themselves. But it was just last year that the Houston Rockets came back from down 3-1, stunning the Los Angeles Clippers by winning three straight games en route to the Western Conference Finals against these very Warriors.
The blueprint has been laid down. So what lessons can the Dubs take from Clutch City? Desperate Warriors fans, take heed at these suggestions:
- Sign Josh Smith to an emergency 10-day contract - Forget the legality, just call in a favor to Adam Silver, like you did with the Draymond Green non-suspension. Too soon? Sorry. OK, let's get serious.
- Ask Gregg Popovich to apply the Spurs-curse to the Thunder - Steve Kerr and Pop are pretty tight. The Warriors' coach should be able to track down Pop in a Napa wine cellar somewhere. Last season the Clippers collapse followed a 7-game series win over the Spurs. It's as good an explanation as any that some vengeful black magic took down the Clips. And who did the Thunder beat to reach the Conference Finals? Those same Spurs. Alright, now let's really get serious...
- Forget Games 3 and 4 - The Warriors were positively liquidated the last two games in Oklahoma City. They gave up 251 points and were outscored by 52. It wasn't even that close. The temptation is to overanalyze and bemoan everything that went wrong, while vowing to fix it all. But, sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Just look at the 2015 Rockets. They lost Games 3 and 4 in L.A. by 58 points. They were completely dead in the water, it seemed. But they improbably won the next three games by double-digits. Do you think they wasted any energy on self-reflection after Game 4? C'mon, this is the Rockets we're talking about. The Dubs would be best served putting the Oklahoma nightmare out of their minds and just playing their game.
- Hit the offensive glass - This one is going to be challenging, but it's possible. Last year's Rockets got back into the series by controlling the offensive boards, which slowed down the Clippers' transition game and wore out their defense. The Thunder have killed Golden State on the glass this series, so Kerr may want to slow things down and go bigger. Perhaps try Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli together for a few minutes and just see what happens, or send in extra wings to crash the offensive boards. You risk allowing Russell Westbrook to get loose in transition in that scenario, but something needs to change to stop all these one-and-done possessions.
- Own the second quarter - In Games 3 and 4, the Warriors hung around in the first quarter despite early offensive explosions by the Thunder. But in both games the wheels came off in the second frame. The Thunder won said quarter 38-19 in Game 3 and 42-27 in Game 4. That's how the Warriors walked into the locker room at halftime facing insurmountable deficits. Houston finished the first half strong in each of the final three contests with the Clippers last season, winning the second quarters 36-26, 37-35 and 28-25. Get to a halftime with some good vibes and don't burden yourselves by needing a frantic third quarter comeback. A halftime lead would allow the Warriors to play the second half from a position of strength.
- Dominate from 3-point range - This is the most obvious cure to Golden State's woes. The threes haven't been falling since they last left Oracle. Meanwhile, Westbrook and Andre Roberson have somehow been hitting from three for OKC. When it rains, it pours. The Warriors are fantastic at executing in the half court. Again, if they slow things down a bit and run some of their bread-and-butter actions they will get open looks from beyond the arc. They just need to start making them. The 3-point shot is the great equalizer when the opposition is bullying you, and it was a major factor in the Rockets' ascension last year. They torched the Clips from three in Games 5-7, converting 34-91 against L.A.'s 23-93 output. Domination in this area will tilt the scales back in Golden State's favor.
- Awaken the whispers - OKC is flying pretty high right now. But basketball is a cruel mistress; things can turn quickly. It was just a series ago when the Thunder seemed doomed after Game 1 vs. the Spurs. The series prior, they looked disinterested and lazy in a loss to Dallas that had Vine-users mocking Westbrook's defensive effort and renewed speculation about Kevin Durant's future. The Thunder can be their own worst enemy. It's easy to forget now, but you can get into their heads and turn them against one another. To the Warriors, I'd say this: remember who you are and who they were up until five days ago. It's not a stretch to think a convincing Warriors win tonight could lead to a chain reaction. Russ reverting to hero ball, Durant getting frustrated, Serge Ibaka becoming an afterthought in the corner, Dion Waiters remembering he's Dion Waiters. Then enormous pressure to close out the series in Oklahoma City leading to a disappointing effort and all the air coming out of the Thunder balloon. Suddenly NBA Twitter is calling Billy Donovan a fool again and all those whispers return about Durant skipping town if they blow this seemingly insurmountable lead. And after all that, the Warriors with renewed confidence get a chance to win a Game 7 at home in front of a frenzied crowd. In some ways, this is exactly the mental breakdown the Clippers endured when James Harden and the Rockets came storming back to steal the series. "Chris Paul has never been to a Conference Finals"..."They can't get it done under playoff pressure"..."Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can't close out games together"..."Doc Rivers is clueless". That shit weighs on a team.
Now, is a comeback likely? Hell no. But if the Rockets can do it, you can be damn sure the Warriors can. Like with most dilemmas in life, simply follow the example of James Harden and Josh Smith to reach prosperity. It's a cliche for a reason.