If there’s anything Game Four of the West Finals showed, it’s that not all close games can be considered humdingers. True, yesterday’s set-to between the Warriors and the Rockets proved compelling from beginning to end, if for no other reason than because the outcome was in question until the final buzzer. Considering all the lopsided scores hitherto churned out in both conference series, the match stood out for its uniqueness. All the same, it startled even longtime habitues of the sport for the wrong reasons.
You think the Warriors and the Rockets, pillars of offensive efficiency in the regular season, wouldn’t be involved in a clunker filled with poor shot selections off predictable isolation sets. Well, yesterday proved you wrong, with the continual assault to the senses featuring superstars who should have known better. Everybody got infected with hero ball; from Steph Curry to Kevin Durant to James Harden to Chris Paul, future Hall-of-Famers whose respective resumés are already filled — and still being stuffed — with superlatives, the primary thought was to come up with individual highlights at the expense of collective pursuits.
Admittedly, the star power prevailed on occasion. When the one-on-one forays worked, they were a sight to behold. And, to be fair, the marquee names earned their keep. On the other hand, they, too, wound up being the instigators of the very type of uglyball that modern-day rules and advanced analytics sought to render inutile. Perhaps the Rockets could be excused for their Game Four predilections; after all, their bread is buttered precisely by Harden and Paul’s productivity and productiveness off the dribble. Not the Warriors, though, and especially not at the Oracle Arena.
No doubt, the defending champions will be spending their off-day looking at replays of the contest and wondering why they kept getting sucked in by the Rockets. True, they can get by with any type of system given their superior talent; Durant, Curry, and, yes, Klay Thompson are scoring machines. Nonetheless, their engagement in battles of one-upmanship serve to bail out the opposition. They discount their worth, and play right into their rivals’ strengths, when they allow 48 minutes to be broken down a sequence at a time.
From the outside looking in, the West Finals cannot get any closer. As in the East, the fight for the right to book a seat in the championship series is down to a best-of-three affair. Anything can literally happen. Which is to say the Rockets are exactly where they want to be: with homecourt advantage and mucking up matches by pricking the Warriors’ ego to success. They deserve major props for hanging tough in the face of an early challenge, and for managing to dictate the terms of engagement yesterday. They’ll look to do so again in Game Five, and how well they fare will likely determine their fate.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.