A day after the Rockets lost to the Golden State Warriors in game seven of the Western Conference Finals, there are plenty of people in the media and across social media pointing to one thing that cost the Rockets a trip to the NBA Finals. In truth, it was a combination of things. Here are the five big ones.
We hesitate to even mention this one as it tends to be overblown. Did the Rockets get hosed on a bunch of calls in the third quarters of game six and seven? Absolutely. Was it the reason they lost either game? Not a chance. There is no doubt the spate of missed or blown calls, particularly in the third quarter of game seven, aided the Warriors and turned the momentum against the Rockets. But, if you are one of the best teams in the game, you play through it.
You could argue that a few of the no calls cost the Rockets points simply because they spent so much time complaining, it left them out of position on defense where the Warriors feasted. It's a tough lesson to learn, but hopefully this group will be stronger for it next season.
4. Second half collapses.
Scoring 25 points in an entire half and going 0-27 from three will cost you games against bad teams. Against the Warriors, you are toast. That is what the Rockets did in consecutive second halves against one of the best teams of the last decade and one of the all-time best third quarter offenses. The 0-27 is a stat that will probably live on a very long time. It's eye popping and jaw dropping and any other adjective you want to use to describe futility. But it is no more costly than 25 points in an entire second half, which happened in game six.
Putting together back-to-back awful halves of basketball should keep the Rockets players and coaching staff up at night all summer.
This is something that has flown under the radar, mainly because players and coaches don't really like to admit it, but with the shortened rotation in the playoffs, it had to be a factor down the stretch. James Harden, in particular, looked gassed and no wonder, he has been playing huge minutes throughout the playoffs. The Rockets did everything they could to limit the minutes of their guys throughout the regular season. And it worked, especially for Harden, who saw his work load decrease significantly from previous years. But, by the time they got to the final games of the real season, they didn't look like they were physically able to fight through it.
2. The Warriors are really, really good.
It's pretty normal for fans to spend time grousing about their own team while acting as if no other team was on the court. But, you'd be a fool to ignore the fact that the Golden State Warriors have the greatest assemblage of offensive talent in the history of the NBA. The Rockets rely on two, maybe three guys to give them numbers offensively every night. The Warriors can turn to four or five. And when three of them are all-time greats on the offensive end, it is just hard to beat them.
Even so, the Rockets were close. They forced them into a game seven and did so without the services of their second best player. Losing to the Warriors may suck, but it's nothing to be ashamed of.
1. Chris Paul's hamstring.
The look on Paul's face at the end of game five told the whole story. With a minute left, he pulled up with a strained hamstring injury from which he was unable to return. The series wasn't officially over, but it may as well have been. Losing Paul, whose steady hand, tough defense and versatile offensive game, would be like the Warriors losing Steph Curry and Draymond Green. How would you like the Rockets' odds then?
It's a shame when a player who has worked so hard for something comes up short because of an injury or that it cost a team that won a franchise record 65 games a shot at a title. But, the sports gods are cruel sometimes. All you can do is accept it and move on to next season.