When the Houston Rockets were down 19 points late in Game 6 of the NBA Playoffs Conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers last week, it seemed like the Western Conference Final was set: a California battle between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors.
All season long, critics and fans debated who the 2015 MVP should be: Houston guard James Harden, who scored 31 points in Sunday’s clincher, or Golden State’s Stephen Curry. In the end, Curry ran away with the award, but both players put up numbers worthy of the honor. Curry averaged 23.8 points per game and 7.7 assists, and Harden averaged 27.4 points and 7 assists, and both are shining so far in the Playoffs. While their scorelines were similar, Golden State had the NBA’s best regular season record (67-15) and earned the top spot in the Playoffs for the West. By comparison, Houston’s 56-26 was good enough for second place in the conference.
This playoff series will present a chance for Harden — who could have been the first Houston player since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994 to win the award — to prove the critics wrong. This marks the first year the Warriors have ever made it out of the Conference Semifinals, and for Curry — the first Golden State player to ever win the award — it is an opportunity to prove they are for real.
In the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers head to Atlanta to begin their playoff series against the Hawks. Cleveland’s Lebron James struggled, by his standards at least, against the Chicago Bulls earlier in the playoffs. James is the only All-Star on the Cavaliers, but Cleveland will count on him performing well and for the rest of his team to gel around him. If they do, they could prove to be a difficult matchup for Atlanta.
The Hawks, who are in the playoffs for the eighth year in a row, have four All-Stars on their roster (Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, and Jeff Teague), and finished with the East’s best record at 60-22. Atlanta allowed fewer points per game (97.1) than any team remaining in the playoffs, so the Cavaliers will have their work cut out for them trying to get to the basket.
The Warriors and Rockets begin Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals at Golden State on Tuesday, and the Hawks and Cavaliers begin the Eastern Conference Finals in Atlanta on Wednesday.
[Image via Boston Globe]