Draymond Green was brilliant again on Tuesday night, scoring 19 points with 14 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and two blocks to pace the Golden State Warriors in their Game 5 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. He even hit the dagger, a fadeaway jumper with 1:40 to go in the fourth quarter to send Anthony Davis and company home for the summer and lead the Warriors to their fourth straight Western Conference finals appearance. And now, we reach the time of year — and the kind of matchup — where players like Green come to life in a whole new way.
Now, Green and the Warriors will take on the West’s No. 1 seed, the Houston Rockets, who have been pointed since last summer at the singular goal of reaching a level of offensive firepower and defensive destruction that would give them a shot at dethroning the defending NBA champions. Every move the Rockets have made since the end of last season — the blockbuster deal for Chris Paul, the additions of P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, the midstream signing of Gerald Green — has been aimed at making Houston both an even more daunting 3-point shooting and playmaking juggernaut and a more versatile and snarling defensive team that could stand eye-to-eye with the winners of two of the last three NBA titles. They have not been shy about this.
The Rockets are ‘obsessed’ with the Warriors
“[The Warriors] are not unbeatable,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told ESPN’s Zach Lowe last June. “There have been bigger upsets in sports history. We are going to keep improving our roster. We are used to long odds. If Golden State makes the odds longer, we might up our risk profile and get even more aggressive. We have something up our sleeve.”
Two weeks later, he swung what he hoped would be Houston’s version of the Kevin Durant deal, importing Paul from L.A. to ensure that Mike D’Antoni always had a Hall of Fame playmaker on the floor and that James Harden wouldn’t have to shoulder the sort of regular-season creative load that might have contributed to his all-time implosion in Game 6 of the second round against the San Antonio Spurs. With Harden playing at an MVP level and Paul simultaneously making sure Houston’s offense never skipped a beat without him and elevating the quality of their defense, the Rockets would go on to win 65 games, earn home-court advantage throughout the 2018 playoffs … and beat Golden State two times in three regular-season tries, emboldening Houston to believe that it, not the Warriors, was the bully on the Western block.
“It’s the only thing we think about,” Morey said during a radio interview in December. “I think I’m not supposed to say that, but we’re basically obsessed with ‘How do we beat the Warriors?’ […] frankly, we spend most of our time just figuring out how we might just knock the Warriors out in seven games. Because we’re pretty sure that’s what’s going to define our season.”
“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them,” Rockets center Clint Capela said in January. “[…] 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.”
“This is the year,” Harden said in February. “For sure.”
Draymond, however, is obsessed with what comes after the Rockets
The Rockets have made no bones about the fact that they’ve had their eyes on the Warriors this whole season. Green, however, wasn’t willing to cop to a similarly singular focus after knocking off the Pelicans:
Draymond Green gets excited when @ChrisBHaynes asks if Warriors wanted the Rockets: "Man, we won 2 championships in 3 years we're not going to run off saying how bad we want to play somebody! We want another championship… It don't matter to us who we play." pic.twitter.com/QCeOmkItqv
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 9, 2018
From Chris Haynes of ESPN:
“Man, we won two championships in three years. We’re not about to run off talking about how bad we want to play somebody,” Green said. “We want to win another championship, and it don’t matter who’s in the way of that. If you’re in the way of that, then you happen to be in the way. But we’re not about to run around like, ‘Yeah, we want to play them in the conference finals.’ For what? It doesn’t matter to us who we play. However, we got them. All right, now let’s get it. We get to it now.
“We’ve got a goal. Whoever is in the way of that goal, then we got to see you. You got to see us. All right now, they’re in the way. Perfect. But we’re not running around talking about, ‘Man, we want them bad.’ Nah, we want a championship bad. Another one.”
You’ve just got focus one day at a time, one game at a time and, when you get to the playoffs, one series at a time. Maybe we end up playing the Rockets. I like our chances no matter who we play. But we do know that they’re a threat. They’ve added some great pieces and, as it’s been highly publicized, that team is built to beat us. Noted. Great. We’ll see y’all soon.
On the other … I mean, come on, you know?
One man’s obsession is another man’s passionate scoffing
“It’s so funny sitting back and watching this s***,” he starts, before pausing to pull his phone out of his jeans, looking through the Golden State Warriors’ group chat. (The team has one, and the Hampton Five—Green, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Kevin Durant, the five guys that were in the Hamptons in the summer of 2016 to recruit KD—has another.) He wants to relay something that Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey had said in an interview, reacting to the Warriors’ title. The team had texted it to each other […]
Then he pauses, scoffing at Morey’s comments.
“What the f*** are you talking about?” he says to me. “They are really trying to rethink their whole strategy” — here he bumps a table repeatedly with his hand for emphasis, getting excited — “because teams know they don’t have a f*****g clue.”
Sure, Draymond might not have been spending every waking moment thinking about the Rockets while Golden State went through the motions of its 58-win regular season, watching Houston blow past them into the No. 1 spot to ensure that Monday’s Game 1 would take place at Toyota Center rather than inside Oracle Arena. But given Green’s penchant for turning slings and slights into boulders on his broad shoulders, and the passion with which he dismissed Morey’s machinations as the deck-chair-shuffling of just another man heading a team without “a f*****g clue,” the notion that he doesn’t feel one way or the other about the prospect of handing Houston its head kind of beggars belief.
The Warriors knew they’d be here, too
While Draymond boiled over and blustered, though, other Warriors acknowledged what anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear would’ve surmised: yeah, Golden State’s been expecting this, and waiting for it with no small amount of anticipation, too.
“I kind of felt like [the Houston matchup was inevitable] the whole year, the trajectory they were on and the pace we were playing with,” Klay Thompson said after eliminating the Pelicans, according to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. “And I’m sure NBA fans will be very excited for this matchup: two very good, historic offenses. And it’s gonna be a lot of fun for everybody.”
And from Tim Kawakami of The Athletic:
So I asked Steve Kerr: By now, are you guys as obsessed with Houston as the Rockets are obsessed with you?
“Obsessed is the wrong word,” Kerr said. “We’re impressed. Impressed is a better word. They’ve had a great year.
“But we’re the champs. So they’re coming after us. We have to be aware of everybody that’s coming, and we’ve had our eye on them the whole year, because we knew they were going to be the team likely standing in the conference finals.
“I think everybody anticipated this matchup, including us, including them.”
The time for talk is (just about) over
Unlike other teams the Warriors have faced in their run to four straight conference finals, three straight NBA Finals and two championships, the Rockets will have home-court advantage in their matchup. When Harden and Paul both operate at a high level, Capela commands the front of the rim, and Houston’s array of comfortably switching wings are locked in and seamlessly trading assignments on the perimeter, the Rockets profile as perhaps the deepest, most potent in-conference opponent Golden State’s seen yet, right up there with the last Durant-and-Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder team in 2016. They’re explosive, experienced, capable, confident and completely focused on the goal in front of them.
Green, for his part, doesn’t really seem to care about all that, because all he and his squad are concerned about is reaching a goal beyond Houston. Well, that, and putting an end to 11 months of talking. More from Haynes:
“They have made it known that their team is built to beat us,” Green said […]. “Kind of their, like you said, obsession or whatever you want to call it — it is what it is. Like I’ve said before, all that stuff is cool. Obviously, you want to build your team to beat the defending champs because that’s usually how you have to go to win a championship. So, all understandable.
“That stuff has been said for about a year now. It’s time to play.”
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