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The buildup for this series truly began in February
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, with some pointed comments from Golden State’s Draymond Green.
Or in October, when Houston won at Golden State on ring night.
Or in June, when the Rockets landed Chris Paul.
Whenever it started, however it started, it’s clear that this is the series that the NBA-watching world wanted. Western Conference finals, Golden State versus Houston, Game 1 on Monday on the Rockets’ home floor. Series winner to the NBA Finals, series loser will undoubtedly feel like they let a championship ring slip away.
”They got us. We got them,” Green said. ”Got to go out there and play. We’ll see who better.”
After more than 10 months of playing, posturing and some pontificating, it really is that simple.
This Rockets team was assembled – the key being the trade for Paul last summer – with hopes of unseating the reigning champion Warriors from their perch atop the NBA. So far, so good. Houston set a franchise record with 65 wins in the regular season, went 2-1 against the Warriors in games that were hyped at the time though seem meaningless now, and has the likely MVP in James Harden.
But how this Houston season will be remembered hinges largely on the outcome of this series.
”Everybody at the beginning of the year thinks they’ve got a chance to be here,” Houston’s P.J. Tucker said. ”Everybody talks about winning. Everybody talks about fighting for a championship. … We really believed it. We’re really fighting to get there. This is not a game. Everybody takes their job serious.”
He’s right on all counts
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, particularly on the talking.
And the talking will most definitely continue over the next few days. With five full off days between the Warriors’ and Rockets’ respective second-round clinchers on Tuesday and Game 1 of their series, a lot of people will be saying a lot of somethings.
”I think it’s going to be a great series,” said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, whose Pelicans fell in five games to the Warriors in the West semifinals. ”I think it will be very entertaining. I think the people will have a great time watching that series, because you have great players out there. … I’m looking forward to it.”
He’s hardly alone.
For as great as LeBron James has been, again, the West matchup is going to overshadow the East finals between Cleveland and either Boston or Philadelphia. That’s no disrespect to the East; that’s just reality given the seasons that the Warriors and Rockets have had, and the collision course that seemed so inevitable for either to avoid.
”The whole world’s been waiting for this matchup,” Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal said in his role as an analyst Tuesday night on TNT.
The three Warriors-Rockets games were about as anticipated as any in the regular season: Golden State lost two of the three, and the final combined score of those matchups was Warriors 353, Rockets 352.
”That was so long ago,” Warriors forward Kevin Durant said. ”I think both teams are different and playing better. So you know, I try not to look at those games but we kind of know, they know what we do and they know what we do.”
It’s the second time in four years that Houston and Golden State have met in the West finals; the Warriors ousted the Rockets in five games in 2015 on their way to the NBA title. Golden State was the No. 1 seed that year, Houston was No. 2. The seeds are flipped this time
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, after Houston finished the regular season with the league’s best record.
This is the first time since 2014 – a span of 15 series – where Golden State will have to play Game 1 on the road.
”Every series you play, it gets harder and harder and harder,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who is seeking a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals and third ring in four years. ”So following that trend for sure.”
The verbal jousts between the Warriors and Rockets go back to the preseason, with Green questioning Houston’s commitment to defense. And after Houston beat Golden State 122-121 on opening night of the season, that prompted Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni to turn that phrase back around on Green.
It picked up in January, when the teams split a pair of games. And in February, Green told Sports Illustrated that he knew the Rockets were focused on knocking the Warriors off.
”Noted. Great. We’ll see y’all soon,” Green said then.
Soon, now, has a definitive date. Soon is Monday.
As soon as Tom Cable drove into the Raiders facility seven years after being fired from his dream job as head coach in Oakland, he knew he wanted to return to the franchise he cheered for as a kid.
Instead of feeling bitterness over his firing, Cable wanted to come back as coach Jon Gruden's offensive line coach to complete some unfinished business.
"This has been my team since I was a little boy, so it's not like it changed because I got run out of town," Cable said Thursday. "It probably just made it a little bit deeper for me
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, which is cool. That's why I'm here."
Cable's first tenure in Oakland was a chaotic one before he was fired after two-plus seasons as head coach following the 2010 season. Cable led the Raiders to an 8-8 record in his final season, the team's first non-losing season since 2002.
He memorably proclaimed "we're not losers anymore" after that season ended, a comment that didn't please late owner Al Davis, who fired him shortly after.
"When I left here, I left here and I didn't want to," Cable said. "That's just the truth. I put that team back and got it up off the mat. Dusted itself off, got to .500 and then we're going to change. It was like unfinished business. It was really kind of natural and a comfortable decision to be back and wear these colors again."
Cable joined the organization in 2007 as offensive line coach under Lane Kiffin and took over as interim coach four games into the 2008 season when Kiffin was fired.
Cable ended up keeping the job after the season, thanks in part to a season-ending win in Tampa Bay that knocked the Buccaneers out of the playoffs and ended Gruden's tenure there.
The following season, Cable was accused of breaking assistant coach Randy Hanson's jaw during a fight at training camp. No charges were ever filed and a civil suit was settled in arbitration. Cable was also accused of physical abuse against two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend that year.
Davis fined him $120,000 because of turmoil those cases brought the franchise. Davis was extremely critical of Cable's behavior in a news conference after the firing but Cable remains appreciative of what Davis did for his career.
"My respect for him is unblemished," Cable said. "I think that's where people would say, 'Why aren't you bitter?' Well, because you see for me it's different. He's a teacher to me. He's a mentor to me. Whether I get along with him or not, wasn't the issue. I took so much from him. To have the opportunity to come back and help make this right, like the vision I had earlier was and to help Jon see this though the right way
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, that's pretty powerful to me."
After being fired by the Raiders, Cable went to Seattle where he spent the past seven years as offensive line coach. He helped the team build a Super Bowl winner in the 2013 season and returned to the title game the following year where Seattle lost to New England on a late goal-line interception.
The Seahawks struggled on the line the past two years, failing to protect Russell Wilson or generate an effective running game.
But Gruden didn't hesitate to bring Cable to Oakland for a second stint.
"He's a tough guy," Gruden said. "Usually the tough coaches, they help develop tough lines. The thing I love about Cable is he's a great teacher. You can go down and sit in an offensive line meeting for 30 minutes and he can coach about three days' worth of information. He's always ready. He's sharp, but he's a really good teacher. He's into it every day. He's a tough guy. We like him."
Cable joins a Raiders team that allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL the past two seasons, led by a stout interior that includes former Pro Bowlers at center and left guard in Rodney Hudson and Kelechi Osemele, and an emerging right guard Gabe Jackson.
Left tackle Donald Penn has been one of the top pass blockers in the league the last few years and the Raiders also used high draft picks to add first-rounder Kolton Miller and third-rounder Brandon Parker.
Cable also gets the chance to reunite with running back Marshawn Lynch, who averaged 1,339 yards rushing in his first four seasons with Cable in Seattle with 48 TD runs.
"He's one of the smartest football players I've ever known," Cable said. "I don't hand that one out very often. He's been really a blessing for his teammates. He was phenomenal in the locker room as a leader in Seattle. I see the same characteristics going on here."
NOTES: Gruden said he will undergo surgery on his right elbow Friday. "I'm kicking off my summer with a real, real bang," he said. ... CB Gareon Conley missed the last two days of minicamp with a mild groin strain.
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