The Houston Rockets weren’t supposed to beat the Golden State Warriors. They haven’t yet, but if the Kevin Durant’s injury report is anything to judge by, the Rockets are two games away from whiting their 2018 Western Conference Finals loss out of recent memory.
James Harden’s offense has been electric—he is performing markedly better against the Warriors this year with approximately half as many eyes as last year—and has largely invigorated his supporting cast. Through bloodshot sclera (that’s the white of the eye, FYI) he has posted nearly 35 points per game, well above his modest 28 in last year’s series, continuing Golden State’s troubles with stifling pure scorers.
Subsequently, Eric Gordon has gifted Houston it’s first secondary scorer not named Chris Paul. His preseason weight loss wasn’t just for show. Gordon’s increased stamina has allowed him to outscore every Warrior except Durant on a nightly basis.
It would be nice to say that the Rockets’ success (even if they are down 3-2) is of their own doing, but it isn’t. After nearly cracking at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, the Warriors have been made vulnerable, seemingly by forces out of their control.
What are the chances that the Warriors lose two players this postseason to non-contact injuries? After DeMarcus Cousins’ season ended on an uncontested loose ball, Durant falls in similar fashion. For all of the mental adversity the Warriors faced this season—questions about Durant’s future, whether Klay Thompson re-signs, how much longer the team can endure Draymond Green’s presence—their playoff run has the potential to be marred by divine intervention.
There is always potential for a Steph Curry or Thompson 3-point onslaught, but thus far neither have been the point generators their reputations suggest. The Splash Bros. have benefited immensely from Durant’s presence these last three seasons, and without him, they must revert to a “Pre-Hamptons Five” version of themselves to stand any chance of success.
And even if Curry and Thompson could download their 2016 versions of themselves, it’s not like the rest of the team can follow suit. The roster that supported the pre-Durant Splash Bros. is long gone, save for aged versions of Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and Shaun Livingston.
Rarely does the team that’s leading a series feel like the predetermined loser. Add to the Warriors struggles an iteration of the Rockets who have been perfect at home, and there’s little reason not to expect a Game 7 this Sunday.
The time has come to break up the band. With Durant’s departure all but guaranteed this summer, Houston bears the burden of dethroning the Warriors.