Steph Curry Rockets Warriors May 2015

The first week of the Conference Finals has drawn to a close and they may be over sooner rather than later.

What seemed initially to be clashes of fairly evenly matched teams has devolved into lopsided series that could be over a little more than a week after they began.

How did this happen?

Let’s take a look back...


The East

LeBron James Cavaliers May 2015

The basic assumption held by many to start the season that the Cleveland Cavaliers would end up in the Conference Finals proved to ring true. Not that they didn’t make it interesting along the way.

Entering the Conference Finals with a roster depleted by injuries to two of their vaunted Big 3, the Cavs were going to have their depth tested.

The Hawks struggled heading into the playoffs, and those struggles continued against a mediocre Nets team in the first round. The Wizards took the East’s top seed to six games before Atlanta closed things out.

Their much-lauded “team basketball” approach had gotten them this far by spreading the scoring and defensive load across the roster. But this house of cards was delicate and beginning to show signs of collapse as the playoffs progressed.

During Game 1 in Atlanta, the home team jumped out to an early lead behind their raucous crowd.

LeBron and Jeff Teague set the pace for their teams, scoring 16 and 17 first-half points respectively as the teams went into the half tied at 51. Kyrie Irving was noticeably hobbled and only had six first half points on two for seven shooting.

Somebody was going to have to share the scoring load with LeBron, and it was J.R. Smith who stepped up. Smith knocked down a Cavs record eight 3-point attempts for the game and five in the second half.

With Atlanta down 14 with five minutes remaining, things went from bad to worse for the Hawks.

Their leading scorer in the playoffs and presumed LeBron-stopper, DeMarre Carroll, went down with a non-contact injury to his knee. It looked bad as Carroll was carried to the locker room, but the Hawks did not give in.

Kent Bazemore filled in for Carroll, and led the Hawks back within four points of the Cavs with less than a minute to play. It wasn’t enough as a breakaway LeBron dunk put things out of reach.

Cleveland took Game 1, 97-89.

In Game 2, Cleveland sat Kyrie due to knee tendinitis while, somehow, Carroll returned to the starting lineup for the Hawks. Despite his return, Carroll was not up to the task of guarding the best player on Earth.

LeBron dropped in 13 first-quarter points. Balanced scoring by the Hawks kept them in the game in the first half with Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague leading the way with 12 and 10 points respectively.

In the third quarter, the Cavs pulled away thanks to the all-around playmaking ability of LeBron James. The King had 11 points and five assists in the third period as the Cavs opened up an 18-point lead headed into the final quarter.

In the final minute of the third, Kyle Korver exited the game with a nasty looking ankle injury. A day later, he would be declared out for the rest of the playoffs. This was a hit that seemed to take the Hawks out of the game completely.

Al Horford also sustained a knee injury that saw him exit the game in the fourth quarter. Down two All-Stars, coach Mike Budenholzer seemingly threw in the towel clearing his bench with four minutes remaining and his team down 17.

The Cavs took Game 2, 94-82.

Game 3 was in Cleveland and with Kyrie Irving sitting for the second straight game, LeBron seemed desperate to put on a show. James missed his first 10 shots of the game and Al Horford capitalized, leading the Hawks to a 24-21 lead after one quarter.

Horford and Teague continued to battle for the Hawks while Matthew Dellavadova took advantage of this spot in the starting lineup scoring 14 first-half points as the Hawks took a one-point advantage to halftime.

Al Horford, however, would not make it to halftime. The Hawks big man was ejected after dropping an elbow on Dellavadova after the Cavs guard stumbled into Horford's knees on a rebound.

Without one of Atlanta's key bigs in the game, LeBron woke up in the second half. James collected his 10th assist on a Dellavadova 3 with 3:50 to play in the third quarter.

Paul Millsap came alive in the third and carried his success on offense into the fourth. A Jeff Teague jumper gave Atlanta a four-point lead with 1:38 to play, but the Cavs grinded things out and tied it at 104 with 18 seconds remaining.

A Teague 3 failed to fall, and this one headed to overtime.

In OT, Teague scored all seven of the Hawks points in the period, but it wasn’t enough. A LeBron 3 with 36 seconds to play put the Cavs up for good as Shelvin Mack missed consecutive 3s that would have sent the contest to a second OT period.

The Cavs took a 3-0 series lead by winning this one, 114-111.

The West

Steph Curry May 2015

The Warriors dominated the best conference in basketball virtually from wire-to-wire. They made quick work of the Pelicans before finally topping the Grizzlies in six games.

Their appearance in the Conference Finals seemed as inevitable as Steph Curry’s MVP trophy. But the Warriors were entering unfamiliar territory, having not appeared in the Finals in 40 years.

The Rockets, despite finishing second in the West in the regular season, were something of an unexpected player in the Conference Finals. Having taken out a depleted Mavericks team, they were considered fodder for the Clippers in round 2.

But Houston proved to have more guts than previously thought, and came back to win Game 7 after being down 3-1. The Rockets had nothing to lose, which made them a dangerous opponent.

With Game 1 in Oakland, the Rockets jumped out to take a lead thanks to the versatility of their bigs. Josh Smith, Dwight Howard, and even Clint Capella (yes, Clint Capella) did an excellent job defending the Warriors guards on switches.

Howard going at Bogut early caused the Golden State big man to get into early foul trouble, further opening up the paint for Houston. A 9-0 run by the Rockets in the second quarter gave them a 16-point lead with seven minutes to play in the half.

When coach Steve Kerr decided to play 6-foot-7 Draymond Green at center, the Warriors defense got the boost it needed to scratch back into the game.

Shawn Livingston’s 14-point explosion in the second quarter kept the home team in it, and Stephen Curry’s buzzer beater gave the Warriors a two-point advantage at the half.

The Warriors held serve in the third quarter as Houston suffered from long scoring droughts. Golden State maintained an 84-79 advantage heading into the final quarter.

James Harden took things over for the Rockets, scoring 10 of his 28 points in the final period. But it wasn’t enough, as the reigning MVP locked down the Game 1 win by sinking a pair of free throws with 11.8 seconds to play.

The Warriors took Game 1, 110-106.

In Game 2, it was obvious that Steph Curry was determined to set the tone early, but too often the Rockets plain forgot about where the MVP was on the court. Curry had multiple open looks and knocked down four first-quarter 3s on his way to 15 points in the quarter.

The passing efficiency of the Warriors led to 21 first-half assists on 23 made field goals, and the Rockets look bewildered as to how to stop it. The Warriors did what the Rockets couldn’t and stopped themselves with 11 first half turnovers.

Houston capitalized on those mistakes, and despite being down 17 in the second quarter, the Rockets went into halftime tied with the Dubs at 55 thanks to James Harden’s 19 first-half points.

The teams traded baskets for much of the third quarter, and the Warriors enjoyed a two-point advantage at the end of three quarters. Golden State clawed their way to a 96-89 lead with 2:25 to play.

James Harden would not let the Rockets go quietly into the night. Harden scored 10 of the Rockets final 12 points but could not get off a shot as time expired. The Rockets fell to the Warriors in Game 2, 99-98.

Game 3 was back in Houston and given the Rockets’ performance in a hostile environment in Oakland, they seemed set to translate their home court boost into their first win against the Warriors this season. Too bad the Warriors had other plans in mind.

Dwight Howard played like a man possessed in the first quarter, cutting to the basket with ease and clearing the boards with authority. James Harden, however, struggled mightily, going 1-of-8 from the field in the first half.

Combine that poor effort with the amazing play of Steph Curry, and the Rockets were down by 25 at the half. Before the half, Curry broke Reggie Miller’s record of 58 3-pointers made in a postseason. That was only a sign of what was to come.

The Rockets opened the second half on a run that cut the Warriors lead to 18, but could not get over the hump thanks to deft passing and hot shooting from everyone on the Warriors roster — especially Steph Curry.

The MVP finished this romp with 40 points while hitting on seven of his nine attempts from 3 in the 115-80 blowout victory for the Warriors.


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