The Houston Rockets were a single win away from reaching the NBA Finals, as they had the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors down 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals. In both Game 6 and Game 7, the Rockets held the lead at halftime, but the second half was all Golden State, leaving the Rockets with two consecutive heartbreaking losses.
The question for the Rockets for the 2018-19 season is not for their talent as they were the best team in the Western Conference during last regular season. The question also isn’t whether the Warriors will run away with the Western Conference championship yet again.
No. The question is, can the Rockets overcome those two Western Conference Finals losses mentally? Will the Rockets actually recover enough to get through the grind that is the NBA regular season in the toughest conference in basketball, then produce in the playoffs as well?
Last season, the Rockets were 41-11 in the Western Conference and 12-4 in the Southwest Division. The Rockets also averaged 112.4 points per game and allowed 103.9 points per game. At home, the Rockets held a record of 34-7, and on the road, they were 31-10.
Even in the playoffs, the Rockets played tough by ousting the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz in five games each. Everything eventually comes back to the Western Conference Finals of last season and the fact the Rockets just couldn’t put the Warriors away when they had the opportunity right in front of them.
The Rockets trailed twice in the series, tying the head-to-head matchup at 2-2 following wins in Game 2 and Game 4. Houston went on to win Game 5 by a 98-94 score, then seemingly the wheels fell off. From there, the Warriors proved why they have been the NBA champions three of the past four seasons.
In Game 6, the Rockets were outscored 33-16 in the third quarter as the Warriors went on to win by 29 points (115-86). Then came the dagger into the heart again in the third quarter with the Rockets crumbling to a 33-15 scoring differential in Game 7, leading to a 101-92 loss which ended the Rockets’ season.
That series proved undoubtedly the Rockets lived and died by the three-pointer, and in Game 7, the Rockets had major issues in making shots from beyond the arc missing 27 consecutive threes.
Sure, losing Chris Paul for the final two games of the series hurt beyond description, but the Rockets held the lead in both of those potential series-clinching games and came up short. The good news for Houston is Paul re-signed and James Harden — the NBA’s Most Valuable Player — is back. Maybe the series had the opposite effect of gloom after all. Even with the Warriors being an improved team over last season, Houston should have a chip on their shoulder and should want to take care of some unfinished business.
The last time the Rockets lost in the Western Conference Finals before last season was in 2015, also to the Warriors (4-1). The following season the franchise lost in the first round of the playoffs, but that most likely won’t happen this upcoming season.
This time around, things seem a bit different compared to 2015, as the Rockets are a better team and should use what was a very tough situation — and even to some extent, embarrassing situation — as motivation. If they don’t, then it could be a very long season for the team from Clutch City, which would be a great disappointment for a very loyal fan base who have been waiting 20-plus years for a third NBA championship.
If a disappointing scenario occurs, the improvement and all the work put into building the current roster would be all for naught, and that is something the Rockets can ill afford to have happen this upcoming season. If this were a betting situation, don’t count on the Rockets folding, but stepping up and battling the Warriors tough yet again this upcoming season. Who knows, more players could be added to make the team even better than a year ago.