Now, with the teams just days away from locking horns in the Western Conference finals, a popular narrative is that Houston has an edge because it’s the hungrier team. Stars like James Harden and Chris Paul have never won a title; the Warriors have captured two in the past three years.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr, though, isn’t buying into line of thinking.
“No, I like where we are,” Kerr told reporters Thursday ahead of Game 1 Monday in Houston. “Our guys have rings. That’s a good position to be in. To me, the hardest championship is the first one, as an individual player and as a team, because you don’t know — you don’t quite know if you can do it.
“Once you get the first one, there’s a little bit of house money. But you want it again because it’s an unbelievable feeling. I like our position. We’re going to go in here knowing we’re the defending champs, knowing we got a couple of championships here the last few years. Let’s go get another one. It’s a nice feeling to have and to go into a series with.”
The Rockets have the opposite feeling. Of the current players on their roster, only Harden and Trevor Ariza have appeared in the NBA Finals. Harden lost in 2012 to the Miami Heat while with the Oklahoma City Thunder; Ariza made two Finals appearances with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning in ’09.
And then there’s Paul, who joined the Rockets last offseason and is now set to play in his first Western Conference finals after 86 career playoff games. If there’s a quintessentially hungry player, it’s him.
Kerr on Thursday called Paul “a killer, one of the great competitors in the league” and someone who clearly has pushed Houston to new heights in his first season there.
“I think Chris is the obvious difference in their team now,” Kerr said. “He gives them a new dimension that they haven’t had before.”
That new dimension pushed Houston to the NBA’s best record (65-17), meaning Golden State now will be forced to do something never asked of it during three consecutive NBA Finals trips — play a Game 1 on the road.
“They are taking the challenge and they’re embracing it,” Kerr said of his team. “But we seem to be at our best when we are threatened. That’s been kind of the M.O. of this team. And we’re definitely threatened.”