A few days before Christmas, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said that the team was obsessed with ways to beat the Golden State Warriors. That comment perked ears on many sides, mostly due to the audacity of an NBA GM admitting that a large portion of brainpower was being spent trying to beat just one opponent.
Indeed, the Rockets roster is built to battle against the Warriors perhaps explicitly. Whatever the case, Warriors coach Steve Kerr responded by saying that the Warriors themselves don’t happen to think about the Rockets.
This cordial back-and-forth prompted several to invoke a famous scene from AMC’s Mad Men in which copywriter Michael Ginsberg tells Don Draper that he pities the handsome ad man. The response from Draper?
“I don’t think about you at all.”
Of course, the context from this moment from the long-hailed TV show often gets lost in the monoculture as it continues to get referenced years after its airing.
The irony is that both Ginsburg and Draper’s comments are vastly untrue. Ginsburg — a counterculture jokester with golden ideas — envies Draper despite all his bloviating to the opposite. And indeed, Draper spent much of Season 5 feeling threatened by Ginsburg’s obvious genius, going so far as to leave the copywriter’s idea for Sno-Ball in a taxi as a means of sabotage — the very issue the two were discussing in the iconic scene.
So when this moment gets referenced, especially as a means to find an analogue in the sports world, it gets used in a way which both satisfies what the forgetful think it represents while simultaneously speaking the truth about the coaches, players, and GMs who speak in platitudes; of simply moving to the next game, taking it one day at a time, and living the now.
It’s all complete nonsense, but no side is supposed to speak the truth. You can play it open or play it coy, but the pack will often to try to bluff one another about their true thoughts.
Kerr and the Warriors are consummate professionals, and although the organization isn’t exactly chocked full of guys who are tight-lipped, they do tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to openly calling out or alerting opponents. Perhaps something in their past has prompted this.
At the same time, it was refreshing when Morey said what was ostensibly the only logical, human response when conversation about the reigning champs comes up and you’re the GM of the challenger in that conference. Yes, we want to beat them. Of course we do. You’d be full of it if you said you were answering truthfully any other way.
Houston has done quite a bit to move toward legitimacy as they try to challenge Golden State. They’ve found a way to masterfully integrate an offense that includes both Chris Paul and James Harden. They’ve jumped eight spots on defense, and are now a Top 10 team in terms of defensive efficiency. They look much better on that side of the ball as well, with Harden looking like he’s turned back the clock to his Oklahoma City days in terms of effort.
So too have roster changes signaled an alignment with Morey’s obsession. When the Rockets took a chance on Gerald Green at the end of December, the 10-year veteran fresh off his couch felt like a bit of a stretch.
But instead, Green has played masterfully. He’s averaging double-digit points per-game while shooting above 50 percent both from the field and from 3-point range. In Thursday night’s matchup against the Warriors, Green was near unstoppable, going 8-of-15 beyond the arc to add 29 points off the bench for the Harden-less Rockets.
How’s that for a complete shot in the dark?
While the Warriors won Thursday’s game, 124-114, the caveats were noticeable. Missing Kevin Durant, Golden State really only took over in the final nine minutes. Before that, it took a near-perfect performance from the Warriors to override the Rockets, who played back cuts and floppy patterns for the Golden State shooters well despite missing Luc Mbah a Moute.
The double-digit win for the Warriors didn’t feel like a defeat until the very end thanks to the likes of Chris Paul and Green. There’s hope yet that we will get to see both teams at full strength in the playoffs as we did in the first game of the year, when the Rockets beat Golden State.
For now, it appears that Morey is making good on his statement of being obsessed with beating the champs any way he can, even if that means pulling a former NBA Dunk Contest champion out of obscurity to shoot unlimited 3-pointers.
The Warriors will need to start thinking about the Rockets if, as they say, they aren’t doing so already. Like with Don Draper, I don’t believe they aren’t for a second.
Let’s just hope the Rockets don’t cut off their ear trying to beat Golden State.