Many saw it coming long ago, but now it’s official. The Houston Rockets will take on the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs.
The two seed San Antonio Spurs defeated the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night, eliminating them from the playoffs for what seems like the millionth time this decade. The Spurs will advance to the second round of the playoffs, where the Houston Rockets have been waiting for a few days.
San Antonio defeated Houston in three of the teams’ four contests in the regular season, but don’t be fooled into thinking this won’t be a competitive series. In the season series, the Spurs scored only eight more total points than the Rockets. It’s highly likely that this second round matchup will be the most entertaining of the entire playoffs this season.
In a lot ways, the Spurs and Rockets have similar teams. They play drastically different styles of basketball and they each have a unique culture about them, but the way they rely on their superstars gives them something in common.
Houston, obviously, has James Harden. They’ve counted on the Beard to be the man each and every night this season. He responded by posting career numbers in almost every category, leading his team to unforeseen success. In fact, Harden’s 2016-2017 campaign was arguably the best offensive season in the history of the NBA. Without exaggerating, he put more points on the board for his team this year than anyone else, ever.
On the other hand, Kawhi Leonard has emerged as one the league’s best players, and San Antonio demands superstar production from him. So far in the postseason, the Klaw has averaged nearly double the points per game than anyone else on his team. He also leads the Spurs in assists and steals. Leonard has essentially done everything for his team in the playoffs, highlighted by a 43-point explosion in game four of the first round.
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That being said, both Harden and Leonard know how to trust their teammates. They lead their teams, sure, but they get other players involved and aren’t always the ones getting the postgame interviews.
The playoffs have provided two perfect examples of such behavior from the two MVP candidates. For Harden, he took a back seat to Nene in game four against the OKC Thunder. The big man finished with 28 points on a perfect 12-12 from the floor while the Beard opted to be the distributor.
For Leonard, it was game six when he allowed a teammate to take over. Tony Parker had one of his best games of the season on Thursday, dropping 27 points while shooting 11-14 with only one turnover.
One of the reasons the Rockets and Spurs finished the 2016-2017 season with two of the top three records in the league is because they each have MVP candidate superstars who are unselfish enough to do whatever it takes to win. If that means defaulting to the hot hand sometimes rather than taking the big shots, so be it. But if their teams could choose who they want to have the ball in crunch time, it’s going to James and Kawhi respectively.
For a lot of reasons, this Rockets/Spurs matchup is going to be fun. It’ll be a back-and-forth affair in all likelihood with lots of exciting endings. Neither Harden nor Leonard will win MVP, but they each have the opportunity to lead their teams to the Western Conference Finals and even further.
Game one of the series will tip off at 8:30 CT in San Antonio, and will be broadcast on TNT. Tune in for some good Houston Rockets basketball.