The Spurs were a dominant force for the entirety of the season, but after Game 1 it truly looked like the Rockets would challenge them in a long series. This was even more apparent when Tony Parker went down with a season ending injury, and Kawhi Leonard was forced to sit out Game 6 with an ankle injury. However, while challenged, the Spurs proved to be the better team in a dominant Game 6 performance i, eliminating a Rockets team that appeared to just run out of gas. Harden in particular completely disappeared as San Antonio cruised to 114-75 victor over Houston.
San Antonio will now travel to the Bay Area to take on the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs have been the second team in the West all year long behind Golden State, and while the Warriors are heavy favorites it will be interesting to see how much San Antonio can challenge them. The Rockets, meanwhile, have questions to answer as they enter an important offseason.
Three things to know:
No Kawhi Leonard no problem
The Spurs looked dead in the water for Game 6 when they announced that Kawhi Leonard wouldn't be playing because of the ankle injury he suffered in Game 5. Leonard has largely been why their system has worked for the entirety of the season. His usage numbers have been staggeringly high this year and teams specifically design offensive schemes around avoiding his defense. How were they going to be able to compete without that?
Apparently it was no problem at all. LaMarcus Aldridge played like a star with 34 points and 12 rebounds. Jonathon Simmons completely shut down a lethargic James Harden and by the third quarter Houston had folded. By the fourth the Rockets were making vacation plans while Dewayne Dedmon got on the floor. A complete and total domination from start to finish without Leonard.
Did James Harden quit?
The lethargic body language from Harden is going to be a talking point all offseason when the Rockets come up. Harden has been banged up with injuries for months now, but it's one thing to be playing hurt and another to completely disappear for an entire game, and that's what happened to Harden. The maestro of the Rockets offense shot just 11 times (zero in the first quarter as San Antonio raced out), the same amount as Clint Capela, and only scored 10 points. He had six turnovers and two field goals for the entirety of the game.
Harden has always been someone that responded strongest when faced with criticism. Two of his best seasons have come after years where he received harsh criticism the season before. This year was the same, but the way he exited the playoffs is going ot leave a bad taste in everybody's mouth. The narrative is that he quit. It's going to take years for him to shake that off.
Can San Antonio stand up to the Warriors?
Time for the question everybody is asking. Will the Spurs finally be the team to give the Warriors a challenge? Golden State cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs and looks to be on a crash course for their third straight finals appearance. However, if there's anybody that can at least challenge Golden State in the West, it should be San Antonio.
The only team that ever looked to be on the Warriors' level this season was San Antonio. As long as Leonard is healthy the Spurs should be able to at least force Golden State to wake up. Does this mean they're going to win a seven-game series against them? Probably not. The Spurs might have the superior coach in the series, especially with Steve Kerr sitting out, but coaching likely won't be enough to overcome the sheer talent of Golden State. The Spurs need to play the best basketball of their lives to take down the Warriors. Of course, their chances of eliminating Houston without Leonard seemed pretty low, too, and look how that turned out.