Rick Barry, one of the greatest offensive players of all time, played for the Golden State Warriors from 1972 to 1978 and for the Houston Rockets from 1978 until retiring in 1980. Needless to say, Barry, 71, will be watching closely when those two teams meet in the Western Conference Finals, which begin Tuesday at 9 p.m.
On the one hand, you’ve got the Warriors, who finished with the best record in the NBA and won three straight games to overcome a 2-1 series deficit against the Memphis Grizzlies. And on the other hand, you’ve got the Rockets, who finished with the second-best record in the Western Conference and overcame 3-1 series deficit against the Los Angeles Clippers.
While both teams made impressive comebacks, Golden State’s was a little easier to predict.
“Well, they just didn’t shoot the ball well and they didn’t play defense well in the games that they lost,” Barry said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I didn’t expect them to continue to play that way. They had never lost three games in a row all season long and they didn’t do that in the playoffs, either. They responded to the challenge that was placed in front of them. And I still don’t think that they’ve played . . . their best basketball yet. They haven’t played one game yet where they’ve played (48) minutes of good basketball on the offensive and defensive end of the court. And when that happens, if it does, somebody’s in big trouble. If it happens against the Rockets, the Rockets are going to get blown out – because they’re capable of doing that. They’re an incredibly explosive team. They have so many people who can hurt you, who can shoot the three.”
The Warriors shot 12-of-52 (23.1 percent) from three-point range in their two losses to Memphis and 56-of-123 (45.5 percent) in their four wins. Golden State hit at least 13 threes in each of those wins, including 15 in the series clincher.
“If they’re shooting the three, they’re very difficult to beat,” Barry said.
As overwhelming as the Warriors have been offensively in the last three games, however, their defense was pretty solid, too. Golden State limited Memphis to 85.7 points per game in Games 5-7 – all Warriors wins.
“You only win if you play defense,” Barry said. “When they focus on defense, it ignites their offense. You even heard Steve Kerr say that: ‘Come on, guys. We got to focus. Don’t worry about our offense. It will all take care of itself if we get out there and get the job done defensively.’ That’s what championship teams do. They play really tough defense. When the Warriors play good defense, their offense performs better – and if they’ve got it really going on (offensively and defensively), then watch out.”
The Warriors, back in the conference finals for the first time since 1976, are vying for their first NBA title since 1975, when Barry was named Finals MVP.