At this point we don’t know if the Golden State Warriors will survive Game 7 in Houston on Monday and advance to the NBA Finals, but the show they put on in Game 6 was both thrilling in itself and reason to hope we get to watch them some more this year.
I turned the TV on at halftime, when the Dubs were 10 points down to the Rockets and the halftime crew, Charles Barkley in particular, thought the end of their season might be near. The third quarter, however, started with a sudden 8-0 run for Golden State, and when you next looked up, they were leading by 20. The final score was 115-86, which meant the Warriors had outscored the Rockets by almost 40 points in one half. It was, however, how they did it that was so exciting.
First, it was their defense. James Harden, the league and Rockets’ MVP, had to this point in the playoffs appeared unstoppable, much like LeBron James. The Warriors, however, guarded him tightly through screens out deep, and when he drove to the basket, three bodies collapsed on him – and he didn’t get the foul calls he expected (maybe this will change when the series shifts back to Houston). Clearly, this tight coverage and his inability to defeat it damaged his confidence, for he began shooting three-point shots that missed the basket completely, as did his teammates.
Energized by their defensive successes, the Warriors’ offense exploded. First was Klay Thompson, who couldn’t miss a three-pointer, including an exclamation point from five feet behind the arc. Kevin Durant, who had shot 3-for-11 in the first half and had been widely criticized the last two games for playing isolation ball, found his mid-range jumper and showed that he can’t be guarded. The coups de grace, as usual, came from Steph Curry, who alternated three-point shots that seemed to barely scrape the net (like a perfect dive that barely ripples the water surface) with impossible driving layups through and around defenders a half-foot taller. Curry plays with such evident pleasure that when he’s hot he lights up his entire team and the arena above him. Last night was such a night.
I should add a PS on the Timberwolves’ quick exit from the playoffs at the Rockets’ hands. While they have three legitimate potential stars – and Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns were just voted to the NBA All-Star Third Team – they show none of the cohesiveness of the Warriors. Once Anthony Wiggins, their other #1 draft choice, or Towns gets the ball, the play is usually over. There is no one on the team like Curry, who is constantly running with a purpose and will appear out of nowhere to take a quick three. Watching the T’Wolves play, even when they win, is drudgery. Watching the Warriors is magic.
By way of contrast, the Cavaliers’ win the next night in game 7 against the Celtics was a clunker. Cleveland’s offense consisted of LeBron James either driving or backing in to the basket for a layup or firing a pass to an open teammate in the corner who then missed a three-point shot. Boston, aside from some baby-hooks by Al Horford, was content to run a weave and pass around the arc until someone decided it was his turn to miss a three. Combined, the two teams were 16-for-74(!) from three-point range – hardly inspiring basketball and not much fun to watch.