The Houston Rockets are designed for one specific purpose. Year after year, the analytical minds who run the franchise make sweeping roster moves and deft tweaks to give themselves a better shot at beating the Golden State Warriors. But despite all this learning from history, Houston remains doomed to repeat it. On Friday, the big boulder came tumbling down the hill yet again, and the Warriors closed out their second-round series and celebrated a 118–113 Game 6 win on Houston’s home floor.
Credit to the Rockets brass for freely admitting that everything they do is designed to usurp the dynasty in Oakland. “We are used to long odds,” Houston general manager Daryl Morey said after the Warriors added Kevin Durant and won the 2017 NBA title. “If Golden State makes the odds longer, we might up our risk profile and get even more aggressive. We have something up our sleeve.” That summer, the Rockets traded for Chris Paul and went on to make a Western Conference Finals run that ended in (say it with me now) defeat by the Warriors on Houston’s home floor.
This postseason seemed different. Really. After falling in a two-game hole, the stars began to align for Houston. The Warriors were tired, and their thin bench failed to provide the starters with cover. Steph Curry lost his touch around the rim and from deep, and his affable comrade Klay Thompson couldn’t find any rhythm either. The Rockets tied the series with wins in Houston, but they got their biggest break in Oakland during Game 5, when Durant suffered a calf strain in the third quarter. Golden State pulled away to win that contest, but the injury would keep Durant out for the rest of the series. The Rockets had spent years looking for a key, and now the Warriors were kindly leaving the door unlocked for them.
Curry even gave the Rockets a head start in Game 6. The point guard got himself into foul trouble early and had zero points after one half of play. But Houston wasn’t able to take advantage of these pristine, lab-quality conditions. The teams were tied at the end of the half, and Curry emerged from the locker room to score 33 points and inform the Rockets that they had missed the best chance they may ever get.
It was Houston’s fourth postseason failure against the Warriors in the last five years, but the Rockets managed to look as surprised as ever. After the game, a downcast James Harden had to answer a familiar question.
“I know exactly what we need to do,” he said. “We’ll figure it out this summer.”
He left out any details of his plan, but given that the Rockets have already tried nearly everything to beat the Warriors—including inventing a totally new style of basketball—there are only a few remaining options left.
1. Hope Durant leaves in free agency while simultaneously convincing Curry and Thompson to return.
2. Hamlet-style poison free-for-all.
3. Rocket-powered pogo sticks.
There might not be much left on the drawing board for the Rockets, but you can count on them to give it a go just the same. Persistence is admirable. Just ask Aesop’s tortoise. Or ask Wile E. Coyote, as soon as pries himself out from under an anvil for the fourth time in the last five years.