Spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War follow.
Sometimes I like to feel depressed. After a long day at work, I will listen to the Smiths, watch a sad episode of Scrubs, or remember that Donald Trump is president. Embracing your inner darkness feels good from time to time.
This summer I have been able to add a new piece of media to my list of depressing works of art: Avengers: Infinity War. I have already seen the movie multiple times, and despite (or perhaps because of) its heartbreaking ending, I have already fallen in love with it. Sometimes the bad memories have the largest impact on us.
The other event of the summer for me was the Western Conference Finals. All year, I have looked forward to Rockets-Warriors. Now that it is over, it too can join my list of depressing things to torture myself with. Multiple moments and lines from Avengers: Infinity War remind me of this NBA series. Let’s take a look back at how Rockets-Warriors 2018 went down. But first, let’s ask, Which Avenger is each Rocket?
James Harden is the Hulk. He had a great opening scene in game 1 but was not able to tap into his inner Hulk since then. Chris Paul is Thor, the Avenger that kicks the most ass. Ryan Anderson is Vision. Normally he is pretty good but in this movie was a complete liability. Also, Anderson is composed from one of the Infinity Stones. But instead of the Mind Stone, he is built from the Cap Space Stone. Luc Mbah a Moute is Hawkeye because he was completely missing from this series. However even at his best, he would only be kind of useful.
Since he is kind of a wildcard, Gerald Green is Starlord. Sometimes he saves the day; other times he takes stupid shots that ruin the plan. Eric Gordon is clearly Spider-Man. The 2017 Sixth Man of the Year is not as important as the main Rocketvengers in Harden and CP3, but Gordon still plays a critical role on the team and is there for the big battles. Zhou Qi is Scarlet Witch since he is the foreign one that sits on the sidelines during the most important fight. Trevor Ariza is Iron Man due to the fact he was with the franchise at the end of the previous decade then left to do his own stuff for a while. As the washed-up, crippled one, Joe Johnson is War Machine.
“All that for a drop of blood.”
The Rockets started off well, but sloppy mistakes on offense eventually cost them this game. However, the most worrying aspect from this game was the first quarter. Houston had probably the best offensive performance in twelve minutes that could be reasonably expected, and they were only up by one point at the end of it. Their best work could barely damage Golden State. The possibility of the Rockets being swept suddenly becomes real…
“I think you’ll find our will equal to yours.”
But then they pull it together in Game 2. In their best team performance in the playoffs, the Rockets trounce their opponents. Even with Kevin Durant’s 38 points, the win is never really in doubt. Is this team going to the Finals?
“I don’t feel so good, Mr. Stark.”
Never mind, it is not going to be so easy. Up until now, Steph Curry has looked like he is still not 100% after his MCL sprain, but at the worst time for Houston, he finally comes back to his usual self with 35 points. The Rockets get destroyed worse than Black Panther and Spider-Man at the end of Infinity War.
“We’re in the endgame now.”
I thought the Rockets best chance would be to outscore their opponent, but game 4 shows that defense can win games too. Houston scrounges a victory in the first competitive game of either the Western or Eastern Conference Finals. Most importantly, the Warriors’ loss brings the series back to even with only 3 games left. The Rockets were always going to need to get lucky in this series and hope their shots would go into the net at an above average rate. However over a seven game series, numbers tend to deviate back to the mean. Yet now with only 3 games remaining, luck’s impact increases, putting Houston in an ideal situation.
“Did you do it?”
“What did it cost?”
Houston sticks to the same game plan as in game 4. Defense is able to get them another victory and put them one win away from vanquishing their foe. Unfortunately though, Chris Paul goes down with only a few seconds to go in the fourth quarter. CP3 had been their best player so far throughout this series, and it looks like he may be out the rest of the series. The Rocket’s long odds are now even smaller.
“You should have gone for the head.”
The Rockets start off with a 39 point first quarter, and winning, even without Chris Paul, seems possible. But then the Splash Brothers return to their full potential. The Rocket’s lead disappears, and then Golden State runs away with an easy win. Going back to Houston for game 7, do the Rockets have any chance?
“I know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail none the less. Frightening. Turns the legs to jelly. I ask you to what end? Dread it? Run from it? Destiny arrives all the same.”
Rockets lose. My heart breaks.
Basically, the Warriors make a lot of 3’s; the Rockets shoot a lot of 3’s. James Harden is a thousand times better at basketball than I could ever be, but there is an approachability to his game that does not exist with Steph Curry’s. Taking a foul and scoring some free throws seems a lot easier than some of the crazy 3-point shots that Curry or Klay Thompson make. Even though this is a delusional belief, there is an “everyman” aspect to James Harden’s abilities. Compared to Golden State’s team, Harden, D’Antoni, and Morey are average guys who have hacked the system, figured out the meta-game of basketball, and transcended what should be possible based on their limited talent.
What makes the game 7 loss so painful is that the Rockets’ philosophy failed them. They missed 27 3’s in a row. For a 36.2% 3-point shooting team, the chances of 27 consecutive misses is .00053722761%. That level of ineptitude is kind of impressive. But you live by the 3, you die by the 3.
Shooting a lot of 3’s is Houston’s strategy because normally it works. They should have won. They could have won. But in the words of Thanos, I felt so desperately that Houston’s basketball philosophy was right, but the Rockets failed nonetheless.
Game 7, Part II
I actually wrote about a team other than the Rockets this year, the Philadelphia 76ers. And in that essay, I explained the objective of all sports teams:
Championships are supposed to be the ultimate goal for sports franchises, but they are just intermediate goals on the path to build history. Legacy is what matters. Nobody remembers that the Washington Bullets won the title in 1978. People will always remember Russell’s Celtics, the Showtime Lakers, or MJ’s Bulls.
But legacy is only one form of the true goal: memories. Sports are weird. We obsess over championships, but they are such a rare occurrence. Every year, only 1 team wins the Larry O’Brien Trophy; 29 teams leave empty handed. But that does not invalidate the time put in by those losing teams and their fans. Fundamentally, sports exist to entertain us. They are not really about the results; it is about the process.
My favorite Astros moment is not the World Series win but going to a game with my cousins. The thing I love more than the Texans winning is talking about the team with fellow Houstonians. UT losing to Alabama probably taught me more than if they had won. And my favorite memory from the past several weeks was watching the Rockets games with my friends. The wins and losses kind of fade into the background.
And that is literally a loser’s mentality. But when it comes to sports, most people are losers. Memories are more important than wins.
Which brings me to my favorite moment from Avengers: Infinity War and what I believe to be the takeaway from the Western Conference Finals. In the battle on Titan, Thanos crushes all the assembled Avengers. Iron Man remains the only one standing. As Tony Stark faces an opponent he has no chance of beating, Thanos says:
“You have my respect, Stark…I hope they remember you.”
The Warriors were a 73-win team who then added the second best player in the league to their roster. Golden State has crushed every opponent they have faced since then.
Yet the Rockets beat them three times. If Chris Paul had been healthy for games 6 and 7, they might have been able to win the series. Regardless of the circumstances, Houston proved an “unbeatable” team could be defeated. And I will always remember this Rockets team for that.