OAKLAND -- They’ve been on a collision course for 203 days, since last Oct. 17, when the Rockets barged into Oracle Arena on opening night and silenced the crowd with a stunning fourth-quarter comeback that fried the defending champions.
And now the long-anticipated Warriors-Rockets duel is five days away, the teams meeting Monday night in Houston for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Or, as some consider it, the real NBA Finals, since it features the defending champs against a Houston team that finished 65-17, the best record in the league.
Moreover, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey acknowledged in December that they are “obsessed” with overtaking the Warriors.
“It’s the only thing we think about,” Morey said on ESPN Radio.
After the Warriors dispatched New Orleans from the Western Conference Semifinals with a 113-104 victory in Game 5 Tuesday, Draymond Green provided a response.
“Obviously, you want to build your team to beat the defending champs because that's usually what you've got to go through to get a championship,” he said. “All understandable. That stuff has been said for about a year now.
“It's time to play.”
Houston earned its spot in the conference finals earlier Tuesday with a 112-102 win over Utah. And only minutes after the Warriors defeated the Pelicans, Morey tweeted a GIF of the Rock’em, Sock’em Robots, one red and one blue.
That drew no reply from Warriors general manager Bob Myers, because he doesn’t do Twitter.
To be sure, Warriors-Rockets is the most intriguing possible matchup. The Warriors led the NBA in wins three straight seasons; the Rockets took that distinction this season. The Warriors averaged an NBA-best 113.5 points per game, with Houston second at 112.4. The Warriors were tops in offensive rating at 112.3; the Rockets were No. 2, at 112.2. Houston’s net rating was 8.5, to 8.0 for the Warriors.
The teams met twice in Houston, with the Warriors winning, 124-114, on Jan. 4 and the Rockets prevailing, 116-108 on Jan. 20. Houston’s 122-121 win in October -- a game in which they wiped out a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter -- set the stage for what’s to come.
The Rockets that night unveiled the awesome offensive power that eventually carried them to the top of the league in the regular season.
But it was after that Jan. 20 victory that Houston center Clint Capela did a bit of chest-beating.
"We're confident because we know if we're doing what we're supposed to do, we're going to beat them," he told ESPN. "We've got to keep playing. We know that they're going to come back if we have the lead, and we've just got to keep that mindset. Sometimes I feel like, in the past, we were all dragging down after mistakes. But today, we were ready. I think that if we're doing what we're supposed to do on defense -- all the switches, the weak side -- and keep playing our offense by keeping that mentality all game long, we have the weapons to beat them.
"We are better than them.”
Reminded of that Tuesday night, Green essentially shrugged it off.
“That's all fine and dandy, in January,” he said. “But now you’ve got, you know . . . they got us, we got them. Got to go out there and play. We'll see who’s better.”
In two of three games, the most recent nearly four months ago, the Rockets were better than the Warriors. But the postseason has a different dynamic, a different energy, as well as some history between the teams.
The Warriors beat the Rockets in five games in the 2015 conference finals, and then came back in the first round in 2016 to drop them in five. Bingo. Obsession.
The Warriors, by contrast, have no such preoccupation with Houston.
“We won two championships in three years,” Green said. “We don't have to run around talking about how bad we want to play somebody. We want to win another championship and it don't matter who is in the way of that. If you’re in the way of that, then you happen to be in the way.
“But you know, we're not about to run around like, 'Yeah, we want to play them in the Conference Finals.' For what? Like it don't matter to us who we play.
“However, we got them, alright? Now let's get it. We get to it now.”