For the second year in a row, the Houston Rockets’ efforts to try and defeat the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs came up just short. Normally, a postseason loss to the greatest team of this generation wouldn’t mean much more than “the significantly better team won four games before we did.” Yet the Rockets have put themselves in a unique situation not only because of the way their spreadsheet-humping general manager has molded this team with only Golden State in mind, but also because each of these last two series have ended in rather spectacular fashion. It’s that uniqueness that makes this team a legitimate target for criticism. From there, it becomes important to decide which of the two series-ending losses were worse: Game 7 in 2018, or Game 6 of this year.
Let’s start with the similarities first. Both games featured key elements that Daryl Morey had programmed into his attempt at a Warriors-killing machine just breaking down entirely, and both games took place in Houston. Outside of that, however, the circumstances surrounding each defeat, and the events that took place as it happened, were quite different from one another.
The 2018 Game 7 loss’s biggest advantage over that of 2019's was the historic nature of the colossal meltdown. Those 27 consecutive missed threes will forever be a curse that follows the franchise until sports cease to exist. This would be the case for any team that stunk up a playoff game that badly, but because it’s the Rockets, their existence alone made that situation even worse. This was a team that had taken the first seed in the conference with the thought of a Game 7 at home against the Warriors in mind, and it had gotten there through a game plan of drowning opponents in threes with some help from an MVP season from James Harden. Houston had even adapted that plan of attack to punch Golden State in the teeth in the first half of Game 7 with physical rebounding, which created a 15-point lead at one point—and this was done as the team’s second-best player was forced to watch from the bench as he nursed a hamstring injury. But then everything about the team’s identity just started to crumble hard and not even Chris Paul’s injury could excuse the level of catastrophic bed-shitting that was accomplished that evening.
Of course, it says a lot about how terrible the Rockets were in Game 6 on Friday that this comparison could even be made in the first place. Sure, 2018 was embarrassing, but one could at least argue that Houston was just hit with a statistical anomaly that displays the unpredictable nature of sports in general. There’s much less the Rockets could hide behind this year. The Warriors were missing Kevin Durant, Andrew Bogut was forced to start a playoff game with his 75-year-old legs and Steph Curry had zero points in the first half. Sure, the Rockets were objectively not as good as they were last year, but this game was supposed to be a gift in a series where the home team had won every game.
Houston was unable to even do the simple things right like stop Andre Iguodala from scoring five three-pointers for the first time in six years, or prevent Kevon Looney from dropping 14 points on a useless Clint Capela. Worst of all was that the brains of the team’s two best players broke at the worst possible time. Thanks to a bad inbounds pass from Harden, Paul was forced to go against Klay Thompson for a 50-50 ball. Rather than aggressively going after it, Paul tries to flop his way out of the situation to draw a foul. It failed.
Marcus Thompson of The Athletic then added insult to injury with a game story where he noted that Paul tried some corny gamesmanship against Curry earlier in the day that just makes the loss that much funnier.
On the night before Friday’s Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, after arriving from the Bay Area, Curry wanted to get some shots up at Toyota Center. The Warriors’ do-it-all manager, Eric Housen, booked the court from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. so Curry could work on his shot. Somehow, Rockets guard Chris Paul got wind. He decided to go to Toyota Center to get shots up, nixing Curry’s reservations. The Warriors’ point guard offered to stick to half a court, but Paul wasn’t having it. Curry was kicked off the Toyota Center court.
Both games make strong cases for the embarrassing nature of their losses, but now the choice falls to you: which flavor of Rockets choke was your favorite?