NBA Western Conference Finals, Game 5: Warriors 104, Rockets 90 — 4 Winners, 4 Losers
Someday, an NBA team is going to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best of seven playoff series. It's simple math. If something feasible gets attempted enough times, even with a minuscule level of feasibility, eventually it will happen. It just won't be the 2014-15 Houston Rockets accomplishing it.
In order to win in Oakland on Wednesday, let alone two more times after that, the Rockets were going to need help from the Golden State Warriors. Not only would the Rockets need to bring, at minimum, their A- game, but they'd need a C+ game from the Warriors. They would need the Warriors to have bad shooting nights.
On Wednesday night, the Warriors obliged. They shot 41 percent from the field, 31 percent from three, and 68 percent from the line. These types of games NEVER happen from Golden State, much less in Oracle Arena, but on Wednesday, it did. Unfortunately, the Rockets were outrebounded 59-39, gave up 19 offensive rebounds, and turned the ball over 20 times (13 from James Harden — THIRTEEN). They got the game they needed from Golden State, but they failed themselves.
Play smart, and there's a decent chance that the Rockets are playing tomorrow. But they didn't play smart, and now they're going home, going home with lots of work to do on this roster.
Let's do one last look at winners and losers this postseason, Game 5 edition….
4. Harrison Barnes
Both of these teams count on their two superstars to be their respective linchpins, so on nights when they're not up to snuff, they need role players to step and fill the breach. Harden was dismal all night long, and there was no role player there to backfill what he does. To be fair, Harden's performance last night was so far removed from a necessary Harden performance, you'd have needed Michael Jordan 1993 to backfill that breach. The Warriors, on the other hand, got a far less self-mutilatory performance from Steph Curry (7-21 from the field, 3 turnovers) and got enough from Barnes (10-20 from field, 24 points, 7 rebounds) to steady the ship. In fact, it was Barnes scoring all nine points of a 9-2 run early in the third quarter to put the Warriors up by 15 that put the true daylight between the two teams.
3. Dwight Howard
That Dwight Howard is on this portion of the list despite his continual, predictable penchant for being drawn into technical fouls (he picked up his seventh of the postseason Wednesday night), speaks to the effort that he put forth in this series. Ultimately, in a series where the bench for the Rockets was nonexistent and where James Harden was all-universe 60 percent of the time and CYO league 40 percent of the time, Howard was the only thing Kevin McHale could count on, averaging 17 points and 15 rebounds per game in his four healthy games of this series. Howard was not the problem for the Rockets in this series (except when he decided to make a move with his back to the basket).
2. Festus Ezeli
As the series evolved, there were certain things the Rockets began to figure out (much of it too late), but Ezeli was the one x-factor that got better as the series went along. He capped his best game of the series on Wednesday night with 12 points and 9 rebounds (5 offensive rebounds), and nonstop energy. More than anything else, he gave Golden State a solution in the paint in case Andrew Bogut gets into foul trouble. Go ahead and chalk Ezeli up as the "reserve big man most likely to get overpaid in two seasons when the salary cap explodes."
1. Steve Kerr
I'll say two things about Kerr — first, the signature chess move in this series was Kerr's collective strategy against Harden in Harden's two series killing games (Games 3 and 5). In Game 3, he switched Thompson off of Harden and sacrificed Harrison Barnes instead. In Game 5, he threw a bunch of different looks at Harden, the most difficult likely being the ultra long Andre Iguodala. Second, you know how we get to peek in on these coach's huddles during timeouts, and most of the time we say to ourselves "That's coaching?? They're not saying anything!!" Well, Kerr is one of the few I watch in a huddle and say "Man, that guy is making sense." Congrats to him.
4. James Harden
James Harden has had bad games this postseason. Game 4 against the Clippers, Game 6 against the Clippers, Game 3 of this series. But he saved his worst for last, a 2-11 from the field, 13 turnover debacle that sealed the Rockets' fate. I'm not sure what was worse, Harden's 13 turnovers (most of them of the deadly "live ball" variety), or the fact that he was fourth on the team in field goal attempts. Unacceptable on so many levels.
3. Warriors team doctor
So Klay Thompson takes a knee to the side of the head from Trevor Ariza in the fourth quarter, a knee that knocks Thompson to the floor. Thompson goes back to the locker room, and when he comes back to the bench, Doris Burke happily proclaims that the only injury he sustained was some bleeding from INSIDE HIS EAR and the doctors said they didn't need to do any concussion tests. (Also, worth mentioning, Thompson was easily Golden State's nest offensive player last night.) Really?!? Um, ok. If you say so. Oh, and then after the game, this little nugget...
Warriors announce that Klay Thompson began to show concussion-like symptoms after the game. He had checked out immediately after collision.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) May 28, 2015
So, I repeat…..
2. ESPN viewers (potentially)
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Jeff Van Gundy interviewed for the vacant New Orleans Pelicans head coaching job on Tuesday. I'd have to imagine, if he's not the front runner, then he's close to it. Personally, while I like Jeff Van Gundy and would never root against his wishes, I have to respectfully hope that the Pelicans choose someone else for their post, in part because Van Gundy is great on TV, but also because Van Gundy's leaving means twice as much Mark Jackson on the broadcasts. That's plain unfair on our ears.
1. Rockets 2015 offseason
As good a job as GM Daryl Morey did of building this team's depth on the fly and adapting after the Bosh/Parsons Disappointment of 2014, this will be the most challenging offseason for him since securing the services of Harden in October 2012. In 2013, the target was obvious (Dwight). In 2014, they at least could create cap space to make a run at a third star (Bosh). Now, they have some cap space, but not max contract level cap space, and they have to decide what to do with guys like Josh Smith (unrestricted free agent), Corey Brewer (player option), and Patrick Beverley (restricted free agent). This bullet point probably deserves its own post, but needless to say, Morey is operating with a lower ceiling of flexibility this offseason if a third star is still the goal.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.