The Houston Rockets came home after Game 2 with their backs against the wall. They now head to Game 5 feeling like it’s their series to lose.
It’s impossible to know so soon after the fact, but if every NBA postseason is a series of sliding door moments, it’s a decent bet that Game 4 of Houston vs Golden State will wind up being the biggest of them all.
With all due respect to the Eastern Conference — and after Milwaukee’s defeat of Boston earlier in the night and Kawhi’s recent Superman act, it deserves its fair share — no team is better suited to take down the Warriors than these Rockets. Yet if either of Kevin Durant’s or Steph Curry’s 3-point attempts in the waning seconds fall to tie this game, there’s a good chance Houston heads back to Oakland down 3-1, and we know how that story ends.
But they didn’t, and now here we are — two games apiece in the series that NBA fans craved. More than them, the Rockets’ organization earned this. When nearly everyone else cowered in fear, hitting the breaks until this Warrior dynasty ran its course, Houston hit the gas, trading for Chris Paul and refusing to wait their place in line.
Good for them that this now comes down to a best of three.
The Rockets won this game with math…and grit. One of the reasons everyone gave Houston a puncher’s chance before the series started is because they were bound to win a game based purely off of their 3s going down at an above average rate. For a while, it looked like that would happen tonight after Houston started 11-for-28 from deep. After a slow second half though, they ended up with a 34 percent conversion rate. Yawn. That’s not usually going to be enough to beat the Warriors…except when you jack up 50 shots from behind the arc. The whole reason they were able to do that came down to personnel, and specifically being able to have five shooters on the floor for so much of this game and yet not get killed on the boards because of it. Houston finished with a 50-43 rebounding edge despite Clint Capela and Nene playing a total of 25 minutes. They still thrived on the glass though, thanks in no small part to…
PJ Tucker, who is my spirit animal, and he should be yours too. I made a comp on Twitter during the game that Tucker is like the Rockets’ Draymond Green, simply because of all the things he allows them to do, including playing big and small at the same time. It’s lofty praise to compare anyone to the human vitriol that has fueled the Warriors run, but on this night, he earned it. Tucker was everywhere, grabbing 10 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass, and several other tipped balls that lengthened Houston possessions. He also chipped in17 points, was 3-of-6 from deep, and unsurprisingly was a team-high plus-11. You’d say he was their most important player, but that would be a little silly…
James Harden doesn’t stop. It wasn’t a perfect game, as his shot went cold down the stretch, allowing Golden State to have a chance at the end when they probably shouldn’t have. Save the critique for another day. In the two most important games of the season, both must-wins, the man had 79 points, 38 of which came Monday night. His 10 rebounds matched Tucker’s team-high, and for most of the game, whenever Houston needed a bucket, he got it for them. He is so damn good, and even though Kevin Durant’s star shone a little brighter (34 points on 22 shots), that Harden nearly outscored the Warriors backcourt (who combined to go 5-of-20 from deep) by himself can’t be understated.