OAKLAND — Fan loyalties are what they are and cannot be swayed. But consider this an appeal to any and all neutral parties out there. You must root for the Warriors against the Houston Rockets. It’s no less than a matter of good versus evil.
I’m not talking about morality. While here in the Bay Area we’d love to think of Stephen Curry as a guileless cherub and James Harden as a charlatan, the truth is that we don’t know really know these people. The Rockets may be just as hardworking, just as pleasant in conversation, just as upstanding as your Warriors.
No, I’m talking about aesthetics. The way the Warriors play basketball is good. It’s very, very good. The Rockets? Pure evil.
The Western Conference Finals begin Monday in Houston, and rarely has an NBA playoff series presented such a dramatic contrast in styles. KNBR radio host Tom Tolbert, speaking to his old friend Steve Kerr on Thursday afternoon, halfheartedly suggested that Kerr’s team stands for democracy while the Rockets represent communism. But that’s all wrong. Communism, at least in theory, is about equal distribution. Houston is the opposite of that. Its slogan is not “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” It’s “From each according to his ability, to James Harden.”
Let me throw a few statistics at you. The Warriors led the NBA in assists this season, at 29.3 per game, and in secondary assists — passing to a passer, sometimes called “a hockey assist” — at 4.7 per game. They were fourth in the league in passes per game, at 322.7. The Rockets occupied the other end of the chart. They were tied for 26th in assists (21.5), tied for 29th in secondary assists (2.2) and dead last in passes (253.8).
Not that the Rockets didn’t have their strengths. The NBA tracks all sorts of numbers, including percentage of possessions that ended in isolation plays. The Rockets led the league (and it wasn’t close) at 14.5 percent; the Warriors were 17th at 6.4 percent. Houston ran pick-and-roll plays — the basketball equivalent of elevator music — on 25.9 percent of their possessions (ninth in the NBA). The Warriors were 29th at 15.3 percent.
But these are numbers, and we’re not talking about numbers. We’re talking about beauty. And I’m telling you, Warriors basketball is a bank of fog crashing over the Presidio on an otherwise sunlit day. Rockets hoops are rush hour on the 38-mile-long freeway loop that encircles downtown Houston.
Kerr likes to talk about his guys playing with “joy.” Joy is an internal state, but it has an outward expression on the basketball court. You see it when you watch the Warriors. They sprint every chance they get, and pass the ball as often as it makes sense (and sometimes even when it doesn’t).
These Warriors have drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams of the 1990s, largely because Kerr, who played in Chicago, connects the two, and because Golden State broke the Bulls’ record by going 73-9 a couple years ago. But the Warriors’ true NBA forefathers are the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. They play with a similarly creative and freewheeling style. We’re all used to it by now, but it remains a pleasure.