Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, NBA Playoffs

Rockets stay alive, beating the Warriors in overtime in Game 3

The Houston Rockets finally broke through, beating the Golden State Warriors in overtime in Game 3 and getting a toehold in their second-round series.

The Rockets have had some things go right in the first two games of this series but ultimately came up empty both times. With the series shifting back to Houston, and the pressure approaching a fever pitch, they played their best game of the series. James Harden didn’t hit his ceiling but his 41 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists were huge, especially when surrounded by solid performances from essentially the entire supporting cast.

Eric Gordon caught fire for the Rockets in the second quarter, knocking in a trio of 3-pointers, and the Rockets took a nine-point lead into halftime. They held onto it through the third but then things got interesting.

Kevin Durant came out scorching in the fourth quarter, dropping 10 points in the first two minutes, to help close the gap. But as the game tightened, so did both offenses and a series of missed jumpers, questionable decisions and shaky turnovers sent the game to overtime. Harden took over in OT, scoring seven points, while the Warriors repeatedly came up empty. There is still a long row to hoe, but the Rockets have given themselves a chance to even the series at home in Game 4 on Monday night.

Takeaways

This was a team effort for the Rockets. The importance of James Harden to this team can not be understated but the Rockets really only work when everyone is filling their roles. That was the case in Game 3, for the first time in this series. Clint Capela was active and engaged in the first half, looking useful for the first time in the series. He finished 13 points and 11 rebounds. Chris Paul was quiet but hit some shots and moved the ball. Eric Gordon was finishing everything when the ball was swung to him, totaling 30 points on 11-of-20 from the field. P.J. Tucker played fantastic defense and came up with several huge offensive rebounds to extend possessions. And the bench hit some 3s — 5-of-9 from Austin Rivers and Iman Shumpert. Of course, the discouraging part is that even on a night where every ingredient was there, it still only produced a five-point overtime win.

The Curry-Durant dynamic has shifted. Curry has had his moments but mostly been quiet in this series. He was downright terrible in Game 3. He finished the game 7-of-23 from the field and in overtime, he blew a wide-open layup and then an even more wide-open dunk. Through three games, he’s 8-of-32 (25 percent) on 3-pointers. As he’s fading, Kevin Durant is ascending — 46 points in Game 3 brings his playoff scoring average to 35.6 points per game. Durant was the one taking the big shots, assuming responsibility for stopping runs and putting himself directly in the center of the team’s offense. It’s been happening for a while and this series may be more of a reminder of what’s already happened than any sort of endpoint on the process, but this is Durant’s team. The offense is shaped by the shooters around him, but his individual scoring ability is the defining element. It may all be academic in terms of the Warriors defending their title, but the change will certainly have ramifications for their pursuit of another championship and for what happens next season.

Next: Is Kevin Durant the real Iron Man?

The Warriors lack of depth could be a problem. It’s not exactly a secret but the Warriors don’t have the same polished depth that defined some of their previous runs. Golden State has already shrunk their bench by moving Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup and, in an overtime game, just two bench players hit double-digit minutes in Game 3. The Warriors have Kevan Looney and Shaun Livingston and everything else is crossing their fingers and hoping to get lucky. It may not matter here against Houston but they still need to win 10 more games to close the deal on another title. Attrition could be a huge issue with matchups against either Denver or Portland and then the Eastern Conference champion looming.

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