The Rockets beat the Warriors in a pivotal Game 5 last night, taking a clear upper hand in the Western Conference finals.
Unless you ask Golden State coach Steve Kerr.
I feel great about where we are right now. That may sound crazy, but I feel it. I know exactly what I’m seeing out there, and we defended them beautifully tonight. We got everything we needed. Just too many turnovers, too many reaches, and if we settle down a little bit, we’re going to be in really good shape.
It could be argued Golden State is outplaying the Houston overall. The Warriors have outscored the Rockets by 25 in the series. A couple different breaks in Houston’s three-point Game 4 win and four-point Game 5 win, and Golden State might be up 3-2 or even have won the series already.
But it’s not an indisputable fact Golden State is outplaying Houston. The Rockets missed a lot of open 3-pointers last night, and I wouldn’t credit the Warriors defense for that. Houston is controlling the style of play. And I don’t think the Warriors can divorce their good shots from the turnovers Kerr believes can be eliminated by just settling down. To generate good shots against the Rockets’ switching defense, Golden State must run a high-degree-of-difficulty set of actions – mixing in slipped and set screens, cuts in different directions and risky passes. Reducing exposure to turnovers would just lead to the isolation game Kerr wants to avoid.
More importantly, the Warriors are down 3-2. Even if they’re playing slightly better than Houston, winning two straight games is very difficult in this situation. The series won’t be decided by which team outplays the other over the next two games. Golden State advances only if it wins both.
This is the 182nd time a team has trailed a best-of-seven series 3-2 with a Game 6 at home and a theoretical Game 7 on the road. The trailing team has won the series just 8% of the time. In fact, the trailing team has usually lost in Game 6.
The history of the Warriors’ situation:
The list of teams to come back is so short, we can present the entirety of it:
- Cleveland Cavaliers over Golden State Warriors in 2016 Finals
- Brooklyn Nets over Toronto Raptors in 2014 first round
- Orlando Magic over Boston Celtics in 2009 second round
- San Antonio Spurs over New Orleans Hornets in 2008 second round
- Utah Jazz over Houston Rockets in 2007 first round
- Detroit Pistons over Miami Heat in 2005 conference finals
- Los Angeles Lakers over Sacramento Kings in 2002 conference finals
- New York Knicks over Miami Heat in 2000 second round
- Houston Rockets over Phoenix Suns in 1995 second round
- Washington Bullets over Seattle SuperSonics in 1978 NBA Finals
- Phoenix Suns over Golden State Warriors in 1976 conference finals
- Baltimore Bullets over New York Knicks in 1971 conference finals
- Boston Celtics over Los Angeles Lakers in 1969 NBA Finals
- Boston Celtics over Philadelphia 76ers in 1968 division finals
- Philadelphia Warriors over St. Louis Bombers in 1948 BAA semifinals
This isn’t so much about holding home-court advantage. It’s that the team with home-court advantage got it by being superior throughout the regular season.* Even if we all know Golden State coasted during the regular season and is much better than its 58-24 record, the Rockets proved themselves to be darn good, too.
*Though the Cavaliers and Celtics also fit this scenario, I don’t find the history of similar series nearly as telling for the Eastern Conference finals. Without Kyrie Irving, Boston isn’t the same team that secured home-court advantage with its strong regular-season play.
Maybe the Warriors will win the series. They’re arguably the most talented team of all-time.
But even if we grant Kerr’s implication that they’re outplaying Houston, that’s not nearly enough to consider it likely they’ll win two straight games before the Rockets win one.