The Golden State Warriors are in the midst of one of the most remarkable multi-year runs witnessed in NBA history. While the Boston Celtic dynasty of the Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Red Auerbach led Era doesn’t have much (if anything) to fear, these Warriors are making quite the name for themselves. They are one NBA Finals defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by superstar LeBron James, away from being a four-time consecutive NBA champion.
During the 2015-16 season (which coincidentally saw them lose the previously mentioned NBA Finals), they established the single season record for victories with 73, against 9 losses. They already boasted multiple All-Star/two-time MVP, Stephen Curry; fellow “Splash Brother” and multiple All-Star Klay Thompson, in addition to former Defensive Player of the Year/multiple All-Star Draymond Green, when they added former MVP, multiple All-Star and scoring champion Kevin Durant into the fold. This would lead to two additional championships and the subsequent addition of multiple All-Star free agent center DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. Seemingly unstoppable right? Wrong!
The Houston Rockets have been led by superstar shooting guard/scoring machine James Harden for the past several years. Even with Harden’s prolific scoring prowess, he alone cannot overcome all the firepower that Golden State brings on game night.
While the Rockets had a nice mix of players, they were still missing that extra someone to help Harden get them over the hump. Enter All-Star point guard Chris Paul. While many wondered how two ball dominant players such as Paul and Harden would mesh to become a superstar backcourt, the players themselves had little to no concerns.
They would join forces in the 2017-18 season to establish themselves as quite the force to be reckoned with, which led to a 65 win season, and a spot in the Western Conference Finals, against, who else, the Golden State Warriors. Houston seemed to be on their way to a series victory, and a spot in the NBA Finals, when something all too familiar happened, that being a Chris Paul injury.
Paul sat out games 6 and 7 due to a pulled hamstring. This unfortunate occurrence gave Golden State the opportunity to kick the door wide open and enter into the Finals for a fourth consecutive year, defeating Cleveland for their third championship in four years. Many are of the thought had Chris Paul been available, there would have been a different outcome.
Here we are in the 2018-19 season. James Harden has been . . . James Harden. As of the February 25 game against the Atlanta Hawks, he saw his streak of consecutive games with 30 or more points scored end at 32 when he was “held” to 28 points in a 119-111 victory. Chris Paul chipped in with 20 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and a steal. A very nice stat line for sure. Unfortunately, this season has been no different regarding Paul injuries, as he was bitten by the injury bug earlier this season, missing 17 games. Harden, carrying more of the load given Paul’s absence, went on a scoring tear rivaled by only the late, great Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain.
Back to Golden State. Houston has played the Warriors three times thus far in the 2018-19 season and earned three victories. The Western Conference has long been a minefield collection of great teams, thus relegating the Eastern Conference to “JV” status. To come out of the Western Conference victorious is almost akin to having survived, as opposed than having won.
The Rockets teaming of Chris Paul along with James Harden may be what they need to ultimately vanquish Golden State. The Rockets with Paul seem to have the Warriors’ “number,” so much so, they defeated Golden State in Oakland, WITHOUT the services of James Harden, earning a 118-112 victory on Saturday, February 23. Paul would finish this game with 23 points, 17 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals.
This victory by no means suggests Houston could and/or would defeat Golden State in a seven-game series sans Harden. However, it is a case study of whether or not a team has another team’s “number.”
Across every sport, there is usually a dominant team, that has its struggles with a team of lesser talent. In this past NFL season, the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots lost on a last-second play to their division foe, the Miami Dolphins. While the Dolphins haven’t enjoyed much success in recent times, they seemingly always find a way to upset New England. With one remaining regular season game against each other, the best the Warriors can do this season is to win the March 13th road matchup, to avoid going winless against their Texas rival this season. If their paths cross during the postseason, and if Chris Paul can stay healthy, perhaps the combination of he and James Harden will be enough to be the “Kryptonite” to the “Superman” powers possessed by Golden State.