At some point during the first half last night — another oddly somnambulant performance by the Warriors in a literal must-win — every Dubs fan was girding for the nightmare scenario where our team lost. I mean, not even making it to the Finals — can you imagine?
Yes, we are spoiled. But then again who, outside of the 7th and 19th biggest markets in the USA, wanted to see a series between two one-man teams led unlikable superstars? (By which I mean LeBron James — of whom more later — and James Harden, who with Chris Paul sidelined is back to being the Houston Rockets’ sole marquee player.) And yet that seemed a strong possibility as the Warriors committed four fouls in the first three minutes of the game — including three by Klay Thompson — and went down by as much as 15 before limping into halftime trailing by a relatively modest 11.
We were watching at our friends Gary and Genia’s house in Trinidad, where it was a spectacularly beautiful day. We spent the halftime break staring out at Moonstone Beach, trying to convince ourselves that everything was going to be fine. And there was every reason to think it would be — the W’s had been in exactly this situation two days previously, and outscored the Rockets 64–25 in a magical second half.
But that’s the thing about magic: It’s unpredictable. You can’t just summon it at will.
Or can you?
With Steph Curry leading the way, the Warriors’ Big Three scorers all caught fire in the third quarter. They finally took the lead with 3:38 left on a gorgeous between-the-legs assist from Jordan Bell for a Curry 3. The Rockets, meanwhile, were in the midst of a horrific stretch where they missed 27 straight threes.
I’ll say that again: The Rockets missed 27 (twenty-seven) consecutive three-point attempts. Between Eric Gordon’s make with 6:43 left in the 2nd quarter and P.J. Tucker’s with 6:28 to go in the game, they launched up more than one trey per minute and missed them all. A historic, record-shattering performance, but not the kind that’s going to get you to the NBA Finals. 538.com calculated the probability of missing that many in a row at 72,000–1; just having the guts to take them in the first place is impressive in a perverse way.
Even after that, the game wasn’t over till the last couple minutes, when the crowd started to bolt for the exits and the Rockets gradually accepted the inevitable. Steph and KD shared a nice, if somewhat premature hug; birds sang, the moon was shining, and all was right with the world.
The only obstacle remaining between the Warriors and another title is a minotaur named LeBron James, who somehow managed to drag his supporting cast of factory rejects and loose change to the Finals again, even after losing Kevin Love to a concussion. After playing all 48 minutes in the Cavs’ Game 7 against Boston, dominating on both ends of the floor, James lay on the floor exhausted while his teammates giggled and passed around the trophy he had earned them.
He will probably feel better by the time Game 1 of the Finals starts Thursday evening. But he has a momentous task ahead of him, just as he did three years ago, the last time he faced the Warriors without Kyrie Irving around to help. In that series, lest we forget, the Cavs went up two games to one before some combination of Warriors adjustments and LeBron fatigue turned the tide. Will this series play out similarly? Or will the Warriors romp the way conventional wisdom says they should? Or will LeBron and his troops somehow find a way to do the impossible, or at least the very, very improbable? We shall see soon enough.