After Game 3’s 41-point dismantling of the Rockets, the Golden State Warriors have been crowned world champions. It’s their third title in four seasons.
They’ll still play the rest of the playoffs out, including an NBA Finals that begins May 31, but for all intents and purposes, those who follow basketball or are even just casual observers have declared the season over. The Warriors will win.
The NBA Finals are back to being perceived as the Golden State Warriors Invitational. The defending champs won all four quarters against Houston in Game 3, taking the third by 10 and the fourth by 20, forcing their opposition to falter immediately after halftime and ultimately, to quit over the final 12 minutes.
Because Houston is the only team with the firepower to be favored against Golden State the rest of the way, likely in Game 5 if they find a way to make Tuesday’s contest competitive, it’s understandable some are already eyeing the draft and free agency. After being quieted by the Rockets’ dominant Game 2 win, those who like to cry about Kevin Durant damaging the NBA’s competitive balance by signing in Oakland are already belting out depressing songs in between their tears.
Westgate SuperBook installed Golden State as a 1-to-7 favorite to win the championship as the week begins, insinuating an implied probability of nearly 88 percent that they’ll go on to win it all. I’ve seen the online market price the Dubs anywhere from -400 or higher, so there’s a consensus, but I encourage you to shop around if you’re willing to lay significant chalk.
I’ve been writing all season that the Warriors will be appearing on a parade float near you and hanging another banner at Oracle Arena when the 2018-19 season begins. The team moves across the bay to San Francisco for 2019-20, which should make Ring Night and the final opener all the more special.
The question now revolves around how easily they’re able to accomplish that goal, which delivers the point of this column.
By now, you should have already bet Golden State to win it all.
If you’ve failed to, you haven’t listened or been paying attention and have therefore blown it. The odds are no longer enticing. First-time readers, you’re absolved, but I’ll lump you in on the following advice.
The next recourse is to figure out how to make the most of circumstances, which could include betting exact series prices for Golden State in the Finals or getting in on a series matchup bet that pinpoints the Eastern Conference champion who will fall short against the Warriors.
At this point, I’d back a sweep but will reserve judgment to see just how serious Andre Iguodala’s knee issues are. Soreness is likely to hinder and potentially sideline him for Game 4, which displaces the starting five that Steve Kerr has trusted more than any other this postseason. The Warriors can overcome without him but hopefully won’t have to.
Still, don’t back any other outcome than Golden State winning it all. I know there’s value in playing contrarian. The Rockets at a return of 8-to-1 look like the best bet if you insist on going that route since the East champ has no shot. The fact Stephen Curry will likely only get healthier spells doom for everyone else.
Houston is deeper and has been built specifically for this challenge. It hasn’t been as heavy an underdog as it will be in Game 4 since opening the season in Oakland as a 9.5-point underdog. The Rockets won that game, 122-121. They won another game during the regular season as a ‘dog too. If nothing else, they won’t be scared despite being obliterated in Sunday’s Game 3, understanding that Golden State must overcome key components not being at 100 percent and knowing they personally can’t play any worse.
According to Second Spectrum, the Rockets finished with 46 isos in Game 2 after 45 in Game 1 but shot the ball extremely well and got more players involved, leading to better rhythm. D’Antoni encouraged more movement, which paid off in Eric Gordon and Tucker combining to shoot 11-for-15 from beyond the arc to bail out Chris Paul and Harden, who shot a combined 4-for-20 on 3-pointers.
In Game 3, they couldn’t accomplish even the most basic of things on the offensive end.
It’s no mystery the Rockets’ primary objective is to wear down Curry, who isn’t 100 percent after suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain in March. He’s not a liability but – putting him in 43 plays as the primary defender nearly double the workload he had to undergo in the first two rounds – the Rockets ensured he doesn’t rest when he’s out there.
In Game 3, Curry shot 13-for-23, making five of 12 from deep after missing 11 of his first 13 over the first two games. He looked like his old self, perhaps infused due to the extra rest he won’t get until the Finals since the Western Conference will play every other day until crowning a champ. If he bounces back and continues to improve, it’s a wrap.
P.J. Tucker is of the opinion Houston’s small lineup is the best in basketball, superior to even the “Hampton’s Five” look Kerr started in the first three games and is likely to trot out there as soon as Iguodala is deemed healthy enough to play.
The Eastern Conference champion doesn’t have a chance to beat Golden State four times out of seven. Houston is still dangerous since it potentially has a pair of home games remaining but seems likely to run out of bullets.