A year ago, the Golden State Warriors had to explain to the world how lucky they were to have no injuries and play in a season in which most other teams had plenty.
This year, their luck has so far centered on drawing the Houston Rockets in the first round.
The Warriors "endured" the loss of Stephen Curry as though it were the loss of Ted “Basketball Ring” Cruz, which is to say almost not at all. They flash-fried and served the Rockets in Game 5, 114-81, after catching, scaling and de-boning them in Game 4, 121-94, making for the most lopsided last two playoff games since 2009, when Denver mauled New Orleans by a combined margin of 79 points (although 58 of those came in Game 4, when the Denver won, 121-63).
Before that, and perhaps more instructive (as these things go), there was the plus-68 amassed by the Los Angeles Lakers who beat San Antonio in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Final as part of the platinum standard for playoff teams, going 15-1, with only a loss in Game 1 of the Finals against the Philadelphia Iversons.
These Warriors aren’t those Lakers yet, although the drooly psychoses caused by the number 73 may cause people to start paying attention to that one sooner rather than later.
Frankly, though, whatever satisfaction could be derived by crushing the Rockets was mitigated first by having to do so long without Curry and second by having to waste as much energy on the Rockets as they did. Hey, even a little is probably more than it required.
And no, none of this smackdownery was about Jason Terry’s Tuesday victory guarantee. The earnest Rocket backup was doing what any player should do, believing in his team out loud when it needed to hear something from someone, and other than expending belief on this particular team, he did nothing either wrong nor unduly inspirational.
[NBA PLAYOFFS: Blazers beat Clippers in LA, one win from facing Warriors]
If there was inspiration to be found, it was at the Oakland International Airport, where a sad plane awaited to take them to Houston for a sixth game until it became clear it would not be needed . . . with four minutes left in the first quarter.
That’s how absurdly not right this series was, in a postseason full of not-right series. The Warriors spotted the perpetually disaffected Houstons their best player and were not challenged, winning the three Curry-deprived games by an average of 23 points.
And while soon-to-be-replaced-despite-his-best-efforts Houston coach J.B. Bickerstaff described the Warriors as “the best team in the history of basketball,” his own group went from zero to utterly dispirited in record time. They wanted to care in every game, but they managed to fight the urge to collapse only twice in five tries. As opponents, they were as ideal as any playoff team could be, and that includes Memphis, which at least had the excuse of being savaged by injuries.
The Warriors’ triumph here then was not in teaching Houston a lesson, particularly since the Rockets were far too acquiescent to be worthwhile students, but in getting valuable reps without Curry and doing the most with them.
They kept their turnovers to a minimal 10. They guarded the Rockets into stasis with the single exception of James Harden, who got the stat line he deserved (35/6/6, although with seven turnovers). They held the other Rockets to 26.7 percent shooting, 12 percent from the free throw line, 11 fast break points and 32 points in the paint with Dwight Howard, whose national stock plummeted into an grimace emoji. Their defense was simply dry-cleaner-bag-on-your-face smothering.
What is more, Golden State moved the ball efficiently in their set offense despite not having the safety valve of Curry, amassing 30 assists and having four of their five starters go plus-20 or better. Klay Thompson did the night’s Curry’s impersonation, but it was by no means necessary given that almost the entire roster had pleasing games. It was nice for them to know they could channel it as needed, and they will need it in larger proportions as the opponents change.
As for being lucky, they can get a few extra days’ rest by hoping that Los Angeles can cheat the reaper Friday by beating Portland and forcing a seventh game in their series. The Clippers are in tatters due to the losses of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and Portland is a funky team that has the very real threats of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and the emerging one of Al-Farouq Aminu, and though it is hard to really assess which would be the kindlier matchup for Golden State, neither would seem up to the challenge of beating the Warriors four times.
Not that you should assume too much given the nature of the Rockets. Whatever it is the Warriors showed in this series, it is safe to assume nothing after this will be nearly as easy. Realistically, it couldn’t possibly be.