Curry & Klay vs Harden & Paul is the juiciest subplot of the Western Conference Finals


HOUSTON -- Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have spent four years winning debates. One after another, glorified NBA backcourts have tried to present an argument, only to end up whimpering away in defeat.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum of the Trail Blazers are two-time postseason victims.

John Wall and Bradley Beal of the Wizards, 1-7 against the Warriors over the past four years. Nope. Not them.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry of the Raptors? Not a chance. They’re 0-8 against the Warriors over past four years.

This new argument, though, is the most legitimate yet: Can James Harden and Chris Paul prove themselves superior to Curry and Thompson?

[LISTEN: Warriors Outsiders Podcast: West Finals predictions; 'what the series comes down to']

That subplot is the juiciest of many raging throughout the Western Conference Finals between the Warriors and Rockets, who meet Monday night for Game 1 at Toyota Center.

“They have weapons all over the floor,” Curry said of the Rockets. “But everything runs through James and Chris.”

The Warriors win the series easily if they throttle Harden and Paul. It’s a very tall task.

They’re two dynamic scorers and playmakers that put a lot of pressure on a defense. For 48 minutes, it’s not going to be just one person defending each of those guys. It’s going to be a total team effort.

Harden led the NBA in scoring (30.4 points per game) and is expected to be a landslide winner in the MVP voting. He finished second to Russell Westbrook in the voting last season, and second to Curry in 2015, though Harden that year won in a vote among NBA players.

Thompson and Harden are 10 years removed from being high school competitors in greater Los Angeles.

“He has developed into an MVP-caliber player, myself an All-Star,” Thompson said. “It just shows we put in a lot of work to get here. We were both touted coming out of high school, but it wasn’t like we were perceived to be at this level.

“He is great at all three levels, and he’s an amazing playmaker.”

Harden has not had much luck beating the Warriors, losing in the 2015 conference finals and falling in the first round in 2016. That changed this season, when the Rockets won two of three games. The lone Warriors victory came on Jan. 4 at Houston, with Harden sidelined by leg soreness.

It’s Paul’s arrival in Houston this season that now pushes the argument. The natural point guard is a nine-time All-Star bound for the Hall of Fame, and he made a surprisingly smooth transition in playing alongside another ball-dominant guard.

Curry has spent much of his career stalking the shadow of Paul, and often coming out on top. Both played prep basketball in North Carolina, Paul four years ahead of Curry. They developed a relationship that grew into a rivalry as professionals.

“He was a great mentor when it came to understanding how a guy at his level prepared over the summer for an NBA season, with his discipline and his work ethic,” Curry said, recalling the summer prior to his rookie season. “I got to see that first-hand after Summer League, through the beginning of the season.

“He demonstrated what it takes to be great in this league, and it was a nice little eye-opener that summer, working out with him and competing against him.”

The Warriors, behind Curry and Thompson, grew to dominate the former Clippers backcourt of Paul and JJ Redick. Harden is not exactly Redick.

Harden and Paul combined to average 49.0 points per game, on 45.3-percent shooting from the field, including 37.1 percent from beyond the arc.

Curry and Thompson were not as prolific but were appreciably more efficient, combining for 46.4 points per game, on 49.1-percent shooting overall, 43.2 percent from deep.

Those numbers won’t matter when the teams face off in this series. Until there is an outcome, may the debate rage.

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