So after seven games in the Western Conference Finals, including the four Tuesday night, this series is tied at two games each.
The Golden State Warriors won by nine and 17 points. The Houston Rockets won by 16 and 13. Each team covered the spread twice, and Houston got extra credit for scoring 25 of the last 35 points en route to a 95-92 no-rules cage match victory in Oakland.
Now based on what you’ve seen, go ahead and make sense of Game 5 Thursday night. I dare you to try.
This game was not only the closest of the eight conference finals games so far, it was the most bizarre of the postseason, and one of the three or four most aggressively wack of the entire season. And depending on how you choose your wardrobe, this was either a triumph of Houston’s ornery nature or a monument to Golden State’s gift for offensive impatience and Curry-less confusion.
Most likely both, to be honest, which means there will be very little linear basketball played in the final two or three games. Ruined possessions will bleed, turnovers will be stab wounds, missed shots will flay the skin off your head and not getting off shots in time because a play has been destroyed at its inception will be coin of the realm.
Elegance, you see, has probably run its course in this series, and the less elegant the game, the better Houston will like it.
And no excuses are allowed, because both teams had multiple opportunities to break the game to their separate wills. The Warriors missed Andre Iguodala because of a leg bruise, and Curry because of foul trouble (though he completely repo’d the third quarter as he did in Game 3, scoring 17 points and going 5-of-8 from three), but Golden State still took two separate 12-point leads, one in the first and one in the fourth quarter, which should have been sufficient.
And three years ago it would have been. And one year ago, the first lead would have held up.
But then it all decomposed in the fourth, because Golden State lost the ability to sustain a coherent offense. They missed 13 of their final 15 shots and their last seven three-pointers, many of them either hurried, challenged or at the end of mangled possession. That they only committed three turnovers in going from ahead 82-70 to done, 95-92, is amazing, but the resemblances to the implosion at the end of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals against Cleveland are hard to miss.
And like that collapse, this was driven in part by Houston’s toughminded mean-spiritedness, at least when it wasn’t powered by their meanminded toughspiritedness. Houston deserved to lose by a considerably deflating margin after the odd quarters, but like most games, this one ended on an even quarter, and this time with the Rockets standing boldly on Golden State’s regal neck.
Kevin Durant scored an almost distasteful 27 points on 24 shots, never finding anything even close to a rhythm. Even worse, Klay Thompson had his third unimpressive shooting performance and added a knee bruise that could have been even more serious. Worse, Steve Kerr had to play his starters almost the entire third quarter to get back into the game and create a margin the Warriors thought would be sufficient in the fourth.
Instead, the exertion of the third quarter bit them in the fourth, and the 80 Percent Hamptons Five – Durant, Thompson, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry – ended up playing a whopping 166 total minutes, including 45 by Green and 43 by Durant.
But Houston has not only shortened its rotation but actually eliminated it. Four of their five starters played more than 40 minutes, led by P.J. Tucker’s 44, and Eric Gordon played 34 as one of only two players to come off Mike D’Antoni’s bench. Everybody’s hurt, everyone is tired, and nobody cares. You do, or you do not, period.
If momentum between games exists, it has been impossible to find in this series, thus there is no guarantee that Game 5 will play in any particular way. Each team has split its home games with a vengeance, a major deviation from the playoff-long trend of home dominance, and now the job gets hard – for the Warriors, Oklahoma City-in-2016-level hard, and for the Rockets, ain’t-never-been-here-before hard.
In other words, we finally have a series. We just have no idea how to make it make sense.