The Houston Rockets have never been more defeated than they were walking off their own home court in a 118-113 series-ending loss to the Kevin Durant-less, DeMarcus Cousins-less Golden State Warriors.
A team built specifically to take down one of the league’s most unstoppable dynasties failed again in even more inexplicably disastrous fashion than last year’s 27 consecutive missed three-pointers. This game was supposed to be a gimme.
It’s too soon to say Houston’s title window is entirely closed, but it’s going to take everything to overcome the dark legacy James Harden’s Rockets are creating for themselves in the postseason. To this point, they’ve just never had enough.
On Friday night, with the Warriors missing the playoffs’ best player, Durant, who sat with a calf strain, AND All-Star center Cousins, the fields were leveled for the Rockets to redeem themselves and at the very least, push for a Game 7. They failed spectacularly, even with Steph Curry falling off the face of the earth for 50 percent of the game.
Curry scored a whopping no points in the entire first half, yet the score remained tied at 57. A bafflingly bizarre night saw the Rockets take no advantage of all of the gifts thrown in their advantage. James Harden and Chris Paul finished with 35 and 27 points respectively on good shooting, P.J. Tucker scored 15 points on eight shots, and every other Rocket fell flat as Curry regained superhuman abilities. He finished the game with 33 points, all of which came in the final 24 minutes of hoops.
Curry and Klay Thompson rained down three off-balance three-point shots in the final three minutes that felt poetic of how these teams’ series will be remembered historically. Heck, even Andre Iguodala knocked down FIVE three-point shots for the first time in six years. No matter what, the analytically savvy, carefully curated, lab-made three-and-D Rockets personnel can’t seem to beat Golden State in the postseason. If Friday night felt like many you’d seen before, it was because you have. Curry and Klay’s daggers put the nail in the coffin for the Rockets for the fourth time in five years.
The Rockets have no excuses to lean on this time around. Last year’s exit came with Chris Paul injured, but this season was the team’s surest path to revenge. And that’s a tough pill to swallow.
This series loss feels as if the Rockets are setting up to hit an existential crisis. Are Harden and Paul perfect complements? Is this team constructed as well as it could be? Was Clint Capela’s extension the right move? Will suffering through the backend of Chris Paul’s seismic contract come without a ring?
Houston’s window isn’t yet closed, but it’s fading fast. Harden, Paul, Tucker, Eric Gordon and Capela will all be back next year. But with Paul and Tucker at 34 years old, it’ll be a fight against Father Time to keep everyone healthy and at their full selves on the court.
In truth, the Rockets’ biggest win could come with Kevin Durant’s July free agency decision. It’s unclear whether the Old Warriors Regime could’ve withstood a seven-game series alone. But even still, the league has caught up. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks, Joel Embiid’s Sixers, and Kawhi Leonard’s Raptors loom, too.
It’s going to be a long summer in Houston. And all they’ll have to think about is an embarrassing loss to the Warriors. Again.