Stephen Curry, Warriors Survive James Harden, Rockets and Advance to NBA Finals

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2018

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) scramble for a loose ball during the first half in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals, Monday, May 28, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David Phillip)
David Phillip/Associated Press

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

While some of the pieces are different, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will face each other in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year after the defending champions beat the Houston Rockets 101-92 in Monday's Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals at Toyota Center.

Kevin Durant (34 points, five assists and five boards) and Stephen Curry (27 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds and four steals) led the way, while James Harden (32 points, six assists, six rebounds and four steals) fell short in his effort to propel the Rockets to the Finals for the first time since 1995.

          

Juggernaut Warriors Don't Need 4 Quarters to Win It All

Most teams need all four quarters to win championships, but the Warriors aren't most teams. They just need the third quarter.

The Warriors were down 11 at the half Monday but blitzed the Rockets to the tune of 33-15 in the third quarter a mere two days after they won Game 6's third quarter 33-16 to overcome a double-digit deficit. Curry went into takeover mode by darting by defenders, drilling contested threes and setting up his teammates when Houston collapsed on his shot or penetration, and the game swung in a blur.

The Rockets and everyone else know it's coming, but there is little they can do when basketball greatness is on full display.

Golden State's continued dominance in the third quarter should terrify the Cavaliers with another Finals matchup on the horizon, especially since coming out of the locker room sharp has been an issue for them at times in these playoffs.

Fans can criticize the Warriors for going through the motions early in games and relying on their overwhelming talent and the ability to flip the switch, but it works so often it's easier to just accept what's going to happen at this point.

              

Rockets Historically Bad Shooting Night Will Haunt Them All Summer

The game was there on a silver platter for the Rockets.

The Game 7 home crowd they worked so hard to earn was electric, and they were beating the Warriors to loose balls, forcing turnovers, dominating the boards and riding early scoring and behind-the-back passes from Harden. The potential MVP was shining against his former teammate Durant and having his breakthrough moment on the marquee stage.

And then Houston forgot how to shoot.

While Harden and Co. were frustrated with the officiating as their double-digit lead evaporated in the third, they have nobody to blame but themselves. They missed all 14 three-point attempts in the quarter on the way to setting an NBA playoff record with 27 consecutive missed triples.

The stretch will surely haunt the Western Conference's top seed throughout the offseason, perhaps even more than the fact Chris Paul couldn't play in Games 6 or 7 with a hamstring injury.

Championship opportunities don't grow on trees, especially for teams playing in the same conference as the Warriors, and Houston had a golden one there for the taking Monday.

Rather than seize it, the Rockets built a brick house one three-pointer at a time.

           

Despite Shaky WCF, Warriors Emerge as Overwhelming NBA Finals Favorites

These NBA Finals are going to be a blowout, at least if Las Vegas has anything to say:

That being said, the Warriors weren't always the most aesthetically pleasing powerhouse in the Western Conference Finals and clearly benefited from Paul's injury when they were on the brink of elimination. They also found themselves behind by double digits early in both Games 6 and 7 and looked nothing like arguably the best team in NBA history at times.

It will be no matter in the Finals, even with LeBron James on the other end.

Golden State's offense that thrives on the break and fires up three-pointers at will is set to face a Cavaliers squad that was a mere 29th in the league in defensive rating during regular season, per NBA.com.

Kevin Love is also a question mark after missing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals with a concussion, and Jeff Green ended up being the team's second-leading scorer (19 points) in Cleveland's road victory. Green as the secondary option in an offense doesn't exactly scream deep enough to topple the mighty Warriors.

After all, this Warriors squad beat the Cavaliers in five games last year when Kyrie Irving was the secondary option. Adding Durant to a team that won 73 games in 2015-16 tipped the scales heavily in Golden State's favor in this NBA Finals rivalry, and that will be clear once again this year.

           

What's Next?

Attention now turns to another Finals matchup between the Warriors and Cavaliers, which starts Thursday in Golden State. The Warriors handled James and Co. in five games in last year's matchup, and they'll look to win back-to-back titles for the first time in franchise history. 

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