The Warriors remained supremely confident of their chances heading into Game Four of their semifinal-round series against the Rockets. It didn’t matter that they lost their immediate past match in overtime, and that their rivals limited them to 44.2% shooting en route. As far as they’re concerned, they’re primed to win today, thus claiming the split they need to consider their trip to Houston a success; they’ll be having a commanding lead in the best-of-seven affair, with the next contest providing an opportunity to move on to the next postseason challenge.
To be sure, there is reason to deem the assessment on the mark. For all the proof of competitiveness the Rockets provided in their Game Three victory, they are compelled to keep pressing today. And even if they emerge triumphant, they will simply have done their job in the grand scheme of things. Absent homecourt advantage, they will need to prevail on the road at least once in order to advance past the Warriors. And the task won’t be easy; not for nothing are the latter Finals fixtures over the last four years, and, notwithstanding season-long travails, still the prohibitive favorites to retain the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
To comprehend the near-Sisyphean nature of the Rockets’ endeavor, fans need only consider the Warriors’ own decorum throughout the series to date. They own two wins and very nearly went three for three, and yet they haven’t come close to showing their best selves. In fact, two-time National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player Steph Curry and backcourt partner and fellow All-Star Klay Thompson have been mired in unprecedented shooting slumps. And given the aggressive defenses being thrown at them, it’s anybody’s guess as to when — or if — they’ll be able to find their touch with consistency.
Nonetheless, the series continues to be the Warriors’ to frame. After all, they have the most feared starting lineup in the league, likewise featuring yet another former MVP in Kevin Durant and all-world defenders Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. And so formidable are they that the Rockets require offensive savant James Harden to be sharp from opening tip to final buzzer merely to keep in step. Which, in a nutshell, was why the defending champions shook off their Game Three setback as a blip in the radar, and why they’re keen on finally stamping their class today.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.