Bring on the Warriors.
The Rockets did their part to set up a highly anticipated rematch by dispatching the Jazz 100-93 in Game 5 Wednesday. With a 4-1 series victory over Utah, Houston enters the second round to face the winner of Warriors-Clippers. Golden State leads 3-1 entering its own Game 5 tonight.
Houston pushed these Warriors harder than anyone has, falling just short in last year’s seven-game Western Conference finals. James Harden said he thinks about losing Games 6 and 7 every day.
Will the Rockets supplant Golden State this year?
Harden is better. Chris Paul is healthy. The Warriors – their veterans a year older, Kevin Durant‘s impending free agency causing more drama – look somewhat vulnerable.
But Golden State is still favored in the second-round series before even winning its first-round series. The Warriors have historic top-end talent, and that usually wins out in the playoffs.
It did for the Rockets against the Jazz.
Harden (26 points, six rebounds, six assists, four blocks and three steals) and Paul (15 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals) weren’t great tonight. But they gave Houston enough considering Utah’s best player was Royce O'Neale (18 points on 8-of-13 shooting).
Donovan Mitchell (12 points on 4-of-22 shooting, including 0-for-9 on 3-pointers, with only one assist and five turnovers) had an awful game I doubt he’ll forget. His competitiveness and self-awareness are so impressive. I bet this only fuels him.
The Rockets are ready now.
They’ve won 24 of their last 29 games, going back to the regular season. They like to play a high-scoring style, but they’re versatile enough to adjust. P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela keyed a strong defensive performance tonight.
Houston probably won’t beat Golden State. But the Rockets have the opportunity they’ve desired for the last 332 days.