Going into Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the NBA world braced for the culmination of 11 months of anticipation. The Golden State Warriors and The Houston Rockets were supposed to face each other in the conference finals as soon as Chris Paul was traded to Houston in June 2017. The seeds may be reversed since Houston had the better record in the regular season, but both teams are at full strength now, and genuinely believe they are the better team.
Prior to Game 1, the Las Vegas Sportsbook had Houston as a 1.5 point favorite, as more bets came in for Houston over the powerhouse Warriors in Game 1. The reasoning was rather simple. Houston, with the better record, has the likely MVP, was at home, and knew that they needed to make a statement in Game 1. Man I wish the Supreme Court had legalized sports gambling six months ago, because I might have just put all my savings on Golden State +1.5.
Instead of Houston taking control, the team held on enough to be close through three-quarters, before the Warriors eventually ran away with the game in the second half. James Harden had 41 points on 58% shooting, but received some flack for overdribbling (but that’s what he does…) and not playing well enough on defense (but that’s what he does…) Despite the point totals for Harden and Paul (24 points), the Rockets just didn’t play their style. There was not enough ball movement, and the role players didn’t show up. And that was not simply a result of tense play from the home team, it was a byproduct of the juggernaut that the Warriors are.
We’ve somehow come to forget just how good Golden State is. Yes they “only” won 58 games this season, but Kevin Durant played only 68 games this season, while Steph Curry played just 51. The team hasn’t been at full strength much of the season since the All-Star break, and when they were it was easy for them to be complacent with the length of the NBA season.
It’s only one game, but it was a great reminder. Pundits and fans are always victims of recency bias, but now people are going from saying the series will last seven games, to now saying it will only last five games at the most. Since the Warriors signed Kevin Durant, we’ve known how unstoppable they are and will be when healthy, and it’s crazy that we still need reminders from time to time. On a night where Steph Curry was seemingly pedestrian, he really was just allowing Kevin Durant to lead the show, and that he did. Shooting over smaller guards who were 8 inches shorter than him, and even shooting over seven-foot center Clint Capela with ease. Steph could have been more aggressive to keep to averages, etc. But he has the ability to sit back and set up his teammates. In Game 2, Steph will likely come back to remind the world why he won back-to-back MVPs, and why the Warriors are the most unstoppable force the league has seen in 20 years.
The Rockets still have a lot to prove, and play for, but it will take them playing at an unbelievable offensive rate, and their role players hitting threes and playing great defense. The Warriors on the other hand can afford for their best players to have relatively average games and still win on the road against the team with the best regular season record in the league. It’s still too early to crown the Warriors champions for this season, and next (hey LeBron could join Boston for all we know….), but with your time enjoy the greatness, and more than that please enjoy the hatred that the greatness has filtered inside of us all. It’s like the Warriors are Thanos and every other team is the Avengers. With the snap of a finger the Warriors can just detroy every other team. Eventually the Avengers will win, but we’re waiting to see how and when that will happen.
In the other conference, LeBron is seeking to return to his 8th consecutive NBA Finals and has appeared to be the immovable force out East. Yet, here we are with him down 2-0 against the Boston Celtics. Still, even needing to win four of the next five games, I would put all my money on LeBron to win the series if needed. So expect the Vegas Sportsbook to do all it can to never have the Warriors as an underdog in the playoffs again. And it shouldn’t be that hard, because as a fan it would take a lot to bet on Houston in any upcoming games.