Curry & Klay vs Harden & Paul is the juiciest subplot of the Western Conference Finals

Curry & Klay vs Harden & Paul is the juiciest subplot of the Western Conference Finals

HOUSTON -- Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have spent four years winning debates. One after another, glorified NBA backcourts have tried to present an argument, only to end up whimpering away in defeat.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum of the Trail Blazers are two-time postseason victims.

John Wall and Bradley Beal of the Wizards, 1-7 against the Warriors over the past four years. Nope. Not them.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry of the Raptors? Not a chance. They’re 0-8 against the Warriors over past four years.

This new argument, though, is the most legitimate yet: Can James Harden and Chris Paul prove themselves superior to Curry and Thompson?

[LISTEN: Warriors Outsiders Podcast: West Finals predictions; 'what the series comes down to']

That subplot is the juiciest of many raging throughout the Western Conference Finals between the Warriors and Rockets, who meet Monday night for Game 1 at Toyota Center.

“They have weapons all over the floor,” Curry said of the Rockets. “But everything runs through James and Chris.”

The Warriors win the series easily if they throttle Harden and Paul. It’s a very tall task.

They’re two dynamic scorers and playmakers that put a lot of pressure on a defense. For 48 minutes, it’s not going to be just one person defending each of those guys. It’s going to be a total team effort.

Harden led the NBA in scoring (30.4 points per game) and is expected to be a landslide winner in the MVP voting. He finished second to Russell Westbrook in the voting last season, and second to Curry in 2015, though Harden that year won in a vote among NBA players.

Thompson and Harden are 10 years removed from being high school competitors in greater Los Angeles.

“He has developed into an MVP-caliber player, myself an All-Star,” Thompson said. “It just shows we put in a lot of work to get here. We were both touted coming out of high school, but it wasn’t like we were perceived to be at this level.

“He is great at all three levels, and he’s an amazing playmaker.”

Harden has not had much luck beating the Warriors, losing in the 2015 conference finals and falling in the first round in 2016. That changed this season, when the Rockets won two of three games. The lone Warriors victory came on Jan. 4 at Houston, with Harden sidelined by leg soreness.

It’s Paul’s arrival in Houston this season that now pushes the argument. The natural point guard is a nine-time All-Star bound for the Hall of Fame, and he made a surprisingly smooth transition in playing alongside another ball-dominant guard.

Curry has spent much of his career stalking the shadow of Paul, and often coming out on top. Both played prep basketball in North Carolina, Paul four years ahead of Curry. They developed a relationship that grew into a rivalry as professionals.

“He was a great mentor when it came to understanding how a guy at his level prepared over the summer for an NBA season, with his discipline and his work ethic,” Curry said, recalling the summer prior to his rookie season. “I got to see that first-hand after Summer League, through the beginning of the season.

“He demonstrated what it takes to be great in this league, and it was a nice little eye-opener that summer, working out with him and competing against him.”

The Warriors, behind Curry and Thompson, grew to dominate the former Clippers backcourt of Paul and JJ Redick. Harden is not exactly Redick.

Harden and Paul combined to average 49.0 points per game, on 45.3-percent shooting from the field, including 37.1 percent from beyond the arc.

Curry and Thompson were not as prolific but were appreciably more efficient, combining for 46.4 points per game, on 49.1-percent shooting overall, 43.2 percent from deep.

Those numbers won’t matter when the teams face off in this series. Until there is an outcome, may the debate rage.

Current Warriors vs. 2015-16 Warriors? GM Bob Myers picks his winner


Current Warriors vs. 2015-16 Warriors? GM Bob Myers picks his winner

Programming note: Watch the pregame edition of Warriors Outsiders tonight at 6 p.m. PT streaming live on the MyTeams app.

The 2015-16 Warriors won an NBA single-season record 73 games. They overcame a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals and then blew a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals.

Steph Curry became the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. It was an incredibly special nine months.

The 2018-19 Warriors are 30-14 right now. It's been an up-and-down campaign and there's been some legit turmoil (see: Draymond Green-Kevin Durant feud). But on Tuesday night in Denver, the Dubs showed how dominant they can be in a 142-111 shellacking of the Nuggets.

Golden State general manager Bob Myers was a guest on KNBR 680 on Wednesday morning and was asked if it's fair to say that the gap between the Warriors and the rest of the league has closed since that historic 2015-16 season.

"I think the league has evolved from where it was then. They've shifted more towards the style that we were playing then," Myers answered. "We've changed too but the league has certainly become more athletic in many ways, you've got more positionless guys, it's a better shooting league, everybody's playing faster.

"The league has changed but here's the question to ask when that kind of thought is raised -- which is a very fair thought -- and this is not me being defensive at all, but I think this team beats that team in a series.

"I think this is a better team. And people will say, 'It's crazy. You were 24-0 and you won 73 games.' I still believe in a seven-game series, this roster beats that roster."

[LISTEN: Warriors Outsiders Podcast -- Dubs in first place after dominating in Denver]

It's hard to disagree with that. The main reason is due to the addition a certain someone you may have heard of: Kevin Wayne Durant. You know, the reigning two-time Finals MVP, who was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2016.

Also, take a look at Curry's statistics through the Warriors' first 44 games in both seasons.

-2018-19 = 29.5 points, 5.5 assists, 49.1 percent overall, 45.6 percent from 3-point range (5.3 makes per game)
-2015-16 = 30.1 points, 6.6 assists, 51 percent overall, 45.1 percent from 3-point range (4.9 makes per game)

Plain and simple, these Warriors are not approaching every regular season game with the focus and intensity that the 2015-16 squad brought on a nightly basis. That team was trying to break the Bulls' record of 72 wins.

Fast forward a few years, the motivations and goals understandably are not the same. 

"When you look at us, and this is asking a lot because fans can view the game any way they want and that's their prerogative and that's completely fine -- but there's times where you gotta pull back a little bit and go, 'OK, these guys are trying to do this for the fifth time in a row -- to go to the Finals.' And that hasn't been done in 50 years," Myers said. "And that's not a throwaway line.

"That just gives people perspective in that it's hard. Doesn't mean we're not gonna try, doesn't mean our guys don't give effort. But there's a lot more to do it ... that's how you kind of gotta view it."

Listen to your GM boys and girls. He's a smart dude.

And how could we forget -- DeMarcus Cousins will be making his debut on Friday night against the Clippers.

The best is likely still to come.

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller

Warriors road trip review: Inside observations from Dallas, Denver

Warriors road trip review: Inside observations from Dallas, Denver

The Warriors collected two road wins in Dallas and Denver. Here’s what happened behind the scenes ...

The team departed for Dallas on Saturday, the day the Cowboys played the Rams in the playoffs. A couple people on the Warriors’ staff are from Dallas, and a few more have Texas ties. Excitement for football was in the air. Everyone was aware what time kickoff was as practice got underway that night.

On the way to practice at SMU, the team bus drove down University Avenue. A few of us remarked how nice the houses are. There’s a lot of wealth in this part of Texas. We wondered how much the houses cost compared to the Bay Area, so here’s a four-bedroom, five-bathroom, 4,000-plus square foot house in University Park for $1.775 million.

There was an SMU men’s basketball game going on while the Dubs practiced, and a few students wandered over and peered through the glass doors onto the practice court. People always are astounded at how big the players are in person. One student exclaimed, “Boogie is massive!” Another said, “6-8 is 6-8!”

The Warriors beat the Mavericks the next day behind 48 points and 11 3-pointers for Steph Curry.

On to Denver, where one of the best road meals of the season is found: Elway’s. The steaks here are unreal. I don’t like to take pictures of my food, but I had to capture this filet.

At shootaround Tuesday, Steve Kerr said beating the Nuggets to become the top team in the West doesn’t matter at this point in the season. Being No. 1 is a thing for playoffs. Still, they wanted to play well.

The assistant coaches rotate who makes the scouting report on the opponent, and Bruce Fraser had this one on the Nuggets. The Warriors did well preparing for the things Denver threw at them defensively. They came out roaring with a 51-point first quarter, on their way to torching the Nuggets with 142 points.

After the game, the players roasted Klay Thompson’s four dunks, saying they weren’t pretty and his hops aren’t that great. The more they make fun of a guy, the more they love him. 

Klay was overjoyed with his dunks, and said he hasn’t had four in a game since high school. Did you see Klay’s postgame interview where he texted Zaza Pachulia to brag that he’s ahead in their season-long dunk contest?

Highlights of the game the Warriors just played were on in the locker room on Altitude, the Nuggets’ network. The guys had fun reliving the top moments.

The team hustled out of Denver knowing it had another game the next night. The airport is about 35 minutes from the arena, and the flight home took a little more than two hours. The Warriors touched down in Oakland at about 1 a.m., 18 hours before they tip off at home against the Pelicans.