SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick breaks down the Rockets’ big Game 2 victory that sends the Western Conference finals to Oracle Arena tied at one game apiece.
USA TODAY Sports
HOUSTON — When P.J. Tucker sat there explaining all the reasons why his Houston Rockets were going to be just fine in these Western Conference Finals on Tuesday, there was no way to know if it was propaganda or part of their actual process.
The NBA’s best regular season team had been routed by Golden State in Game 1, and anyone who watched the dissection with a discerning eye could tell that the defending champs were fully capable of a repeat performance. But Tucker, who would become a poster boy for the Rockets’ turnaround in their 127-105 Game 2 win a day later at the Toyota Center, wasn’t having it.
“Um, we didn’t do anything (in Game 1),” he told USA TODAY Sports with a laugh. “We had a chance to win that game, and it was probably one of our worse defensive performances all year. We were horrible. Horrible. Bad communication. Running up on our switches. All the stuff that we’d practiced and talked about and done all year, we didn’t do it last night. It was definitely a disappointment, and a letdown, but that’s why it’s a series. It’s all us. I mean we really just feel like that. We feel like it was us.”
How right he was.
Here’s a look at how it happened heading into Game 3 at Oracle Arena on Sunday night and the series now tied 1-1.
1. ROCKETS ROLE PLAYERS ROLLING
Tucker deserves his credit up front here, as he went from being a no-show in Game 1 (one point, 0-3 shooting) to a scoring machine in Game 2 (22 points and five of six from three-point range). For all the focus on the star power in this series, it was Tucker who served as the X-factor during Houston’s two regular season wins against the Warriors (he averaged 16 points and 2.5 made threes).
He was signed by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey last summer for games like this, when the combination of his feisty defense and his capable offense would be a game-changer against Golden State. He was hardly the only Rockets role player to change his fortunes, though. Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza, who had just eight points in the opener, had 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.
This, you might say, is what James Harden meant when he said on Tuesday that he can’t do this alone. And no one aided that cause more than Eric Gordon. While Harden was having an off-shooting night (nine of 24 for 27 points), the Rockets’ super sixth man had 27 points and hit six of nine threes.
2. A BETTER PAUL AND A CHANGE OF PACE
The Rockets left dents in the floor in Game 1, when iso ball ruled the day and they wound up with just three fastbreak points. On Wednesday, Houston had 10 of their 12 by halftime and led 64-50. The up-tempo pace was far better suited to five the Warriors fits.
Chris Paul had everything to do with it, as he had five of his six assists in the first half after having just three in the opener. None were prettier than his dish to Tucker midway through the second quarter, when he darted past scrambling Warriors defenders and fired a pass to the left corner with so much spin that it should have been in a bowling alley.
After Tucker buried the three for a 46-35 lead and the Warriors called timeout, Paul could be seen re-enacting the delivery with a chopping arm motion as he strutted back to the Rockets bench. Little by little, Houston was cutting into the Warriors’ trunk.
3. WARRIORS MISCUES GALORE
- Warriors star Steph Curry got picked on defensively even after that plan backfired in the Game 1 loss. This time it worked. The two-time MVP had his worst game since returning from a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee on May 1, finishing with 16 points on seven of 19 shooting to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. His lone three-pointer – on eight attempts – came early in the fourth quarter when the game was all but over
- Kevin Durant was special yet again (38 points on 13 of 22 shooting), but he couldn’t save them by himself this time. Durant has now scored 30-plus points in five of 12 playoff games.
- After having just nine turnovers in Game 1, Golden State had 11 of its 15 in the first half (Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala combined for seven).
4. A KEY GAME 3
If Tucker was feeling good about this series after Game 1, it’s safe to assume his head is held even higher now as the Rockets head back to the Bay.
“We’ve been a great road team all year,” Tucker had said in that Tuesday chat. “They’ve got to win three more games, man. They’ve got to beat us four times (laughs). And we think, with our group and the way we’ve played all year, for anybody to do that, they’re going to have to work.”
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