As great and as deep as the Western Conference was this season, in the end, we’ve got chalk. We’ve got top-seeded Golden State facing second-seeded Houston for the right to play in the NBA Finals.
Is this surprising?
“Extremely, especially after the Rockets being down 3-1 to the Clippers,” former NBA player and current Suns TV analyst Eddie Johnson said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I don’t think anyone felt they would get out of the hole that they were in, but lo and behold, they did. Kudos to them. Now they get to face a team that won 67 games.”
The Rockets probably won’t be too intimidated. They trailed the Clippers 3-1 in the Western Conference semifinals – losing Games 3 and 4 by a combined 58 points – before winning three straight to take the series and advance to their first conference finals since 1997.
How did they do it?
“I think they took one game at a time – and I think that’s what you have to do in a playoff series, especially when you get behind,” Johnson said. “If you look at the huge deficit, it just seems like a mountain you can’t climb. But I think they took one game at a time. They knew they had to go home and get Game 5 and they knew they had to win on the Clippers’ home floor. So they went back there in Game 6 and didn’t look pretty initially, but they didn’t give up and lo and behold, the Clippers kind of relaxed. I thought the Clippers started pressing and that’s what happens in an NBA game. The 24-second shot clock allows a 20-point deficit to be overcome in about four or five minutes. We’ve seen it continuously. We’ve seen it twice in this playoff season with Golden State doing it. And so it was no surprise to me once I saw the most unlikely of characters knocking down threes and that’s Josh Smith. (Once that happened), I knew (the Clippers) were in trouble.”
Looking ahead, the Western Conference Finals has the potential to be high-scoring, especially for the Warriors.
“They both like to run, they both like to shoot threes, but the difference is the Golden State Warriors are a tremendous defensive team,” Johnson said. “So they mix the three with great defense. The Rockets are up and down defensively and we’ve seen it throughout the playoffs. I don’t know if they can have those kind of meltdowns against the Golden State Warriors. They both can devastate you with 10-0 runs. They both have obviously quality players in James Harden and Steph Curry that can go get not only the three, but can also get in the paint and score and create for their teammates. So there’s a lot of balance there.
“But the difference is, Golden State is just deep – and they’re deep with a plethora of guys that can play two ways,” Johnson continued. “You talk about Draymond Green, (Andre) Iguodala, Harrison Barnes – those three alone really put you in a tough situation. Look, I applaud the Rockets for doing what they did and Dwight Howard’s playing very well, but I just cannot see them having any type of imprint on this series. If Golden State doesn’t win it in five, I’d be shocked.”