Warriors remind Rockets that dynasties don't die easily with dominant Game 6 second half
OAKLAND, Calif. — True dynasties do not die easily. They do not shrink from the moments when their existence appears in question. They hold onto that dynastic with everything they have.
You can debate whether the Golden State Warriors are a dynasty already. But you cannot debate whether the path has been laid: two titles in three years and now a third in sight after Sunday’s 115-86 Game 6 victory against the Houston Rockets.
A home loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals would have put an enormous dent in that Golden State dynasty talk, and for 24 minutes on Saturday night, that loss was exactly what the Warriors seemed headed toward. Despite missing Chris Paul with his hamstring injury suffered in the final minute of Game 5, the Rockets came out blazing. At the end of the first quarter, the Rockets were up 17; at halftime they were up 10. An echo-y Oracle Arena felt confused that something like this was happening on home turf.
The first half was the exact recipe for a Rockets victory: 22 points for James Harden, who got to the free-throw line nine times, to go with seven assists. The Rockets shot 11-of-22 from 3 in that half while the Warriors only made 4-of-18. Eric Gordon ably stood in Paul’s stead in the first half, making all four of his 3s for 16 points, and each of the rest of the team’s shooters — Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green and PJ Tucker — all made at least one 3 in that half.
There was no mistaking the feeling in the aired-out Oracle Arena at halftime: Even with the approach of the third quarter, the period in which so much of this dynasty has done so much of its damage, the Warriors dynasty’s future seemed very much in doubt. The Rockets were playing loose — “a little bit of a free swing,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr called it, “Game 6 on the road, and they know they’ve got Game 7 in their back pocket at home” — and the Warriors were playing tight.
At halftime, Draymond Green gave a little pep talk to his teammates. It wasn’t a rah-rah, go get ’em type of speech. If anything, it was the opposite. “He just told me to slow down,” Steph Curry said afterward. “I was just rushing it a little bit, not being decisive with my shots.” Green quoted the old John Wooden quote about basketball: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
Then the third quarter started, and the Warriors extended this dynasty at least one more game. The game flipped, turning from a 10-point Rockets lead at half to a 29-point Warriors blowout by the final buzzer. A Rockets team that couldn’t miss in the first half struggled to make 3s in the second (4-of-17). A Warriors team that couldn’t buy a 3 in the first half lit the building on fire in the second (12-of-20). A Warriors team that played a bit too hyped up in the first half calmed down for the second, and a Rockets team that won the turnover battle in its wins in Games 4 and 5 became sloppy, coughing up the ball 21 times. (It should be noted that the team that has won the turnover battle has won every single game of this series.)
“Tonight was a pretty good microcosm of our team in many ways,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said afterward. “We have these lapses, and then we have these bursts, and everything in between. … You could tell Houston could see it. They could see The Finals right there.”
At halftime, the Rockets certainly could see it. Through 24 minutes of basketball, they were the better team in every way. And yet at some point you knew that the loss of Paul would bite them, and that’s what happened in the second half. They needed a stabilizing force when Golden State went on its inevitable third-quarter run; again and again, his calmness under pressure is the one trait that Mike D’Antoni praises Paul for. But with Paul on the bench, the Rockets didn’t have it, and the game got quickly out of hand. The Warriors outscored the Rockets 64-25 in that second half, including a fourth quarter where Houston scored exactly nine points. And the Warriors did what they had struggled to do in the past 2.5 games: They played Warriors basketball.
Klay Thompson in particular was playing Warriors basketball. In that decisive second half, Thompson made seven of eight 3-point attempts. On the game, he scored 35 points. “I guess you could say I was born for it,” Thompson said of his big-time play in this big-time moment. But Kerr focused on Thompson’s two-way play, especially his lockdown defense on Harden in that second half. “The guy’s a machine,” Kerr said. “He seems to thrive in these situations.”
The Rockets had a Finals-clinching victory in their grasp, but the Warriors came out in that second half, backs against the wall, and played like the dynasty that they are. That’s what happens with a dynasty — especially when that dynasty is playing at home, with its backs against the walls and its opponent missing one of its two stars – is threatened.
And so we head back to Houston for one of the greatest things in sports: A Game 7 between two historically great teams. So much will be at stake Monday night in Houston: Whether this Warriors dynasty continues. Whether the narratives of Harden’s and Paul’s careers — one a regular-season MVP who withers in the biggest moments, the other a Hall of Famer who seems snakebitten to never win a title — continue or change. Whether Kevin Durant can become a fourth-quarter assassin, which he was not during the Warrior losses in Games 4 and 5 when he made one field goal and scored a combined eight points. Whether the future of the NBA goes through Golden State’s beautiful basketball or through Houston’s counter to it.
“Game 7 in H-Town,” Harden said afterward. “Let’s get it.”