Rockets-Warriors is the season's one, true marquee matchup


Well, we got what we wanted back in November. Now we’ll see if we get what we asked for.

What we wanted was a cataclysmic drawdown between the Empire (Golden State) and the Rebel Alliance (Houston) – the established order and the cheeky upstart. The two best teams – 1 and 2 by record, 2 and 1 by reputation.

Now they have to deliver seven – yes, seven – extraordinary games. These NBA Playoffs need a place to make their claim as entertainment, and to have anticipated this match since Thanksgiving and to get another blah-o-rama simply will not do.

I mean, not that we can do anything about it, but everyone has a dream.

Houston did its part despite Donovan Mitchell’s attempt to LeBron the Utah Jazz (22 third-quarter points ) to a sixth game in Salt Lake City, beating the Jazz 112-102 behind the clock-defying omnipresence of Chris Paul (20 fourth-quarter points, and fourth-quarter points are always worth more). Mitchell will be a particularly incandescent star in this league; Paul has been one for years despite spending so much of his career on good-but-not-good-enough teams in New Orleans and Los Angeles.

But in the end, the line will read only “Houston beat Utah, 4-1,” because that’s the cruel reality of the NBA as explained this morning. You do, or you do not.

Golden State then finished its task against the New Orleans Pelicans by giving them the time-based version of the Hamptons 5 – the third quarter. They turned a tight but disjointed game into a blowout into a late and futile rally, 113-103. The difference, as it typically is, was a third quarter in which – and this is the only stat you really need – New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry called FOUR TIME OUTS in 4:26 (that's one every 66 seconds) in a desperate attempt to break Golden State’s rhythm without ever coming close to doing so.

New Orleans, in short, looked as overmatched as Toronto, except that the Pelicans were trying. They just weren’t ready for the FAW – Fully Attentive Warriors.

So we get the series we’ve almost petulantly demanded all season long, and now the players have to deliver, and that means all of them. Stephen Curry at his most brazen, James Harden at his most mesmeric, Chris Paul at his most driven, Draymond Green at his most theatrically irritated (even when all his teammates are trying to sleep), Clint Capela at his most elongated, Kevin Durant at his most reptilian... all of it, as often as we can get it.

A sweep or five-gamer will feel like a full-on cheat, a six-gamer will be mildly disappointing, and a seven-gamer better have a minimum of five table-biters (anyone can bite their nails, but a coffee table takes true dental stamina). This is the one true marquee matchup in a season that has been full of promise and backhanded disappointments, and the Rockets and Warriors know their duty.

And while most of you in both locations will almost surely dispute this, it doesn’t matter who wins. It just needs to achieve enduring greatness, nothing more.

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