LOS ANGELES - After signing a four-year, $160 million contract extension last summer, Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul tweeted the four-word slogan, "UNFINISHED BUSINESS...RUN IT BACK."
Since the tweet, the phrase has been a rallying cry for both Paul and the rest of his teammates and a team-wide mandate since losing to the Warriors in last season's Western Conference Finals.
Eleven months later, with the Rockets well-rested watching in their Bay Area hotel, the Warriors dismantled the LA Clippers to set up a rematch in the Western Conference semifinals, granting the Rockets their wish.
"We know them well," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said following Friday's 129-110 series-clinching win. "We kind of know what they're going to do. They don't make you think too much about what they're going to do."
Even before Paul's tweet, the Rockets have displayed the habit of keeping an extra eye on the Warriors. Five months before the Warriors beat Houston in an exhaustive seven-games series, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey explained his fixation on the champs.
"It's the only thing we think about," Morey told ESPN Radio's The Ryen Russillo Show. "I think I'm not supposed to say that, but we're basically obsessed with 'How do we beat the Warriors?'
Two days ago, after the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz to move to the second round, big man Clint Capela made his intentions known of who he wanted to play.
“That’s what I want. I want to face them," Capela said in reference to Golden State. “We’ve been working on it all year long. I think if you want to be the champion, you’ve got to beat the champion. So, at some point, you’ve got to do it, right?”
While most teams may desire to face a certain opponent, seldom do you see an organization from top to bottom outwardly voice their opinion one way or another the way Houston has.
"Nah, I've never personally been through anything like that," Kevin Durant told NBC Sports Bay Area. "But what else are they supposed to do? They want us. They respect us, they definitely respect us. They want to challenge us and I can respect that."
Aside from their preferences, the Rockets have been perhaps the Warriors most engaged regular-season opponent. Over the last two seasons, they've beaten Golden State five of their last seven times.
A large reason for the Rockets' success has been James Harden. In his last three games against the Warriors, he's averaged 33.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 9.3 assists. In a midseason matchup in January, with the Warriors looking to find a rhythm, Harden scored 44 points, including an overtime-clinching 3-pointer and a game-winning 3-pointer off the glass, stunning Oracle Arena after the 135-134 win and cementing himself in the MVP conversation.
"He's had an unbelievable year," Warriors gaurd Stephen Curry said. "So everybody's trying everything at this point. But for us we have solid defensive principles that we rely on and had some success last year in the playoffs. But, again, everything's on the table in terms of just winning a playoff series against that team no matter what it takes.
Adding to the conundrum for the Warriors is time - or lack of it. Because the Warriors squandered Game 5 against the Clippers Wednesday evening, they had to travel down to Los Angeles to beat the Clippers Friday evening, leaving less than 40 hours to prepare for the rested Rockets, who flew into the Bay Area Friday.
"We know their team well," Kerr said. "They're tough. We know they're already in the Bay waiting for us. So it will be a quick turnaround. But this is how it goes. This is the NBA. It's just like the regular season; you get a day off and you play another game."
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As the Warriors fly up the coast Friday evening, trying to suppress any complacency that's hindered them to this points, the Rockets will be rested and ready to run it back once more with the champs.
"They have a great team," Durant said. "They proved last year that they had a chance to beat us so may the best team win."