Klay Thompson was rarely challenged like this by Trevor Ariza in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Rockets star James Harden
Stephen Curry always lurked in this Rockets Warriors showdown series.
Chris Paul is playing angry — and that's very good for the Houston Rockets.
Mike D'Antoni has proven the Houston doubters wrong.
Chris Paul credits his wife, Jada Crawley, with finding their Houston dream home.
James Harden is a force with the Houston Rockets.
Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni and wife Laurel at home
It started as hot as Rose and Jack in Titanic — and ended with someone left for dead in the water. Earn had a better chance against Tracy in that fight in Atlanta than the Houston Rockets did against the NBA’s one true superpower.
With more than three minutes remaining in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, large chunks of Rockets fans start heading for the exits, getting mocked by the smug Golden State Warriors fans prevalent throughout the crowd, nearly every step of the way. “Go ahead and beat that traffic,” one loud Golden State fan in Section 102 cackles.
Klay Thompson, the Warriors’ fourth star, has already blown a kiss at Houston’s fans, making fun of all the bravado that seeped right out of the Toyota Center on this Monday night.
In a few minutes, Charles Barkley will get on TNT and declare this super anticipated showdown series over. “Hey, I picked the Warriors in five” Barkley crows. “Now I’m taking the Warriors in three!”
Champs 119, Challengers 106. Let the laugh track roll?
This was supposed to be the Real NBA Finals? The Boston Celtics are probably already asking for a recount on that particular decree.
“Anybody who thinks the Rockets are gonna win a game or win this series is an idiot,” Barkley continues (when doesn’t he continue?) “This is over, (TNT host) Ernie (Johnson). “You just see this game. The Rockets can’t beat them.”
The 65-win Houston Rockets, proud owners of the best record in the NBA this season, are being treated like a national joke after one loss. Albeit a particularly deflating one.
Still, if James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela and all the overhyped role players Rockets general manager Daryl Morey left coach Mike D’Antoni to try to win with do not respond with a fury to all this mocking, they really don’t deserve to be on this stage.
One game into one of the most anticipated NBA playoff series ever, the Rockets are already being dismissed. They should be offended. They should be furious. They need to play outraged in Game 2 Wednesday night.
Thompson doesn’t just blow that kiss to the once-beyond-hyped crowd after burying one of his six three-pointers. He all but mocks a Rockets defense that left him beyond wide open on four of those triples.
When asked in the postgame if he can remember ever having so many completely uncontested looks from 3-point range in a game, Thompson shoots back, “In the playoffs… not too many.”
The Warriors are clearly delighting in the notion that the Rockets are shrinking on the grand stage, the stage the Warriors have ruled for years. Sometimes, a kiss says plenty.
It isn’t supposed to be like this, of course. This is supposed to be a series of near equals with the survivor sure to be the overwhelming favorite to win the NBA Finals. Houstonians gladly fork over $350 for face value tickets just to get somewhere in the lower bowl for this Game 1.
The Crazy Rockets-Warriors Ticket Demand
How hot of a ticket is Game 1? Astros Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and Houston rap legend Bun B can’t even get first row. They sit next to each other in the third row instead — with Bun B wearing a bright red, “Make America Trill Again” baseball cap and Bagwell signing every basketball and baseball Rockets staffers hand to him for timeout giveaways.
You have to be Hakeem to get front row.
When Harden hits a three 20 seconds into the game and Capela blocks Kevin Durant on the very next Warriors’ possession, it looks like this night is going to live up to the hype too. Just 67 seconds into the game and Draymond Green is elbowing Harden in frustration, drawing a technical foul and hoots from 19,000-plus hungry fans with red glow sticks.
It’s 21 to 12 Rockets in a flash with Harden score 12 quick early points, doing his best to set an early tone. It’s still 56-56 at halftime thanks to a late spurt from The Beard that saves the Rockets going into the break — and a magic act halftime act.
But D’Antoni’s team has no tricks of its own in the second half. These Rockets scored 50 points in one quarter in these playoffs. They struggle to get to 50 total in the entire second half on Monday night.
“When you get this deep in the playoffs, it’s all about defense,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says in his postgame press conference.
Houston even commits three shot clock violations. D’Antoni — the architect of that beautiful Seven Seconds or Less offense in Phoenix that these Warriors use so many principles from today — must be dying a little inside. The coach may have joked about the Rockets’ offense being “James and Chris Seconds or Less” — and he’s done a masterfully job of adjusting to the personnel Morey’s given him and squeezing everything out of it — but this cannot be the type of basketball he truly loves.
This isn’t close to all on Harden. He has no one to swing the ball to on a night when he goes for 41 points and wills the Rockets back into the game a few times.
This is about the Warriors brilliance — and the laughter. If the Rockets don’t respond now, after the jokes and The Kiss and the Barkley braying, how good are they really?