It seemed like Kevin Durant’s injury had provided the Rockets with an opening in Game 6. Instead, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry slammed it shut.
It was a gift from the Basketball Gods. Kevin Durant, who had been the Rockets’ kryptonite in the first five games of the series, was ruled out for both Games 6 and 7 with a strained right calf. With Game 6 at home, it seemed like fate was calling to the Rockets to finally break the Warriors. When Stephen Curry went scoreless in the first half, the chorus of fate seemed to be reaching a fever pitch.
And then Curry did what Curry does and the Warriors looked like the Warriors again, and Houston was reminded just how cruel and fickle fate can be.
Curry scored 31 points in the second half, nailing several huge 3-pointers down the stretch. Klay Thompson carried Golden State through any stretch where Curry went quiet and his defense was incredibly impactful. The Warriors won the fourth quarter by 10 points and the game by five, eliminating the Rockets from the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
Maybe the Warriors’ bench isn’t useless after all? When DeMarcus Cousins went down with a quad injury, the Warriors bench got a bit shorter and they’ve been unbelievably ineffective throughout this series. Coming into Game 5, the bench had managed 53 points combined. In Game 6, they came up with 33. Kevon Looney led the way, putting up 14 points, finishing around the basket and playing solid defense. Shaun Livingston made shots. Quinn Cook helped move the ball. Jordan Bell came in and blocked two shots. They certainly didn’t win the game for Golden State but they did enough to let Klay and Curry finish off the Rockets. If Durant is out deep into the Western Conference Finals and beyond, the Warriors are going to need the bench to continue making productive contributions. This was an expiring start.
This was the Warriors at their essential elements. Without Durant’s admittedly epic isolation abilities, Golden State was back to what made them special years ago. Leveraging Curry’s gravity into 4-on-3 situations with Draymond Green (7 assists) picking apart the defense. Klay Thompson knocking down everything in sight and repeatedly making the huge defensive plays. The ball moving. The 3s falling. The momentum building before you have a chance to blink. It seemed obvious that Durant’s injury was a chance for the Warriors to rediscover what helped make them so special in the first place. That they fell back into that comfortable rhythm so quickly should make Warriors’ fans incredibly optimistic for their chances this season and for a hypothetical future without a Durant.
The Rockets were really good, but not good enough. Besides the Durant injury and Curry’s scoreless first half, Houston had so many things go their way. James Harden had a very strong game, 35 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. Chris Paul had his best game of the playoffs, coming up with 27 points on 18 shots. P.J. Tucker hit 3s. Clint Capela had a double-double and was able to leverage his advantages in the paint. But they couldn’t make the right plays at the right time and once again fell victim to Golden State’s exceptionalism. To the narrative that the referees don’t call this matchup fairly, there will certainly be things for Rockets fans to stew on this summer. But the history of these two teams in this era is about two very, very good squads, one of which was clearly better than the other.