© Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Game 2 may as well have been a must-win for the Houston Rockets, who will have to win at least one game in Oracle Arena, where the Warriors haven’t lost in the past 15 contests, to advance to the NBA Finals. The Rockets emphatically responded to a 13-point Game 1 loss, defeating the Warriors 127-105 Thursday night.
Houston’s energy and effort was discernible from the tip. Contrary to Game 1, the Rockets used tremendous ball and player movement all game long, as their role players stepped up.
PJ Tucker rebounded from a one-point Game 1 with 22 points on 8-9 shooting in Game 2. The Warriors dared him to make corner threes, and he made them pay, drilling five of his six attempts from deep. Trevor Ariza and and Eric Gordon combined for 46 points. James Harden was not tasked with yielding offensive production essentially single-handedly, like he did in a 41-point Game 1 effort. He scored 27 points with 10 rebounds. Chris Paul added 16 points and six assists.
This was not Golden State’s night. It sounds elementary, but they were outplayed in just about every facet of the game, and the intensity tilted in Houston’s favor.
The Warriors were sloppy throughout the first half, throwing away 11 turnovers. Houston produced 10 fast break points in the opening half, as opposed to Golden State’s two.
Kevin Durant was the only Warrior who showed up offensively, while his three All-Star teammates struggled immensely on the offensive end. Durant scored a methodical 38 points on 13-22 shooting. He was the only reason Golden State trailed by only 14 at half.
The Rockets held off the inevitable Golden State storm out of the half. Steve Kerr deployed the ‘Death Lineup’ to make up the deficit in the third quarter, where they outscored opponents by 377 points in the regular season. But Houston outscored Golden State by two points to enter the fourth quarter up 16.
The Warriors made the game interesting with about eight minutes remaining, cutting the Houston lead to 100-89. Then the Rockets went on an 11-0 run that effectively sealed the game. They extended their lead to 28 points with five minutes left, Golden State’s largest postseason deficit, before Kerr emptied his bench onto the floor.
Stephen Curry struggled to a 16-point performance on 7-19 shooting. He could not find air space. His twitchy offensive game that enables him to gain a separation was not present Thursday, perhaps a sign his left knee is not 100 percent from a Grade 2 MCL sprain that sidelined him for 16 games.
Klay Thompson was far less aggressive than in Game 1, when he shot 15 three-pointers and scored 28 points on 9-18 shooting. He scored only eight points, only the fifth time he was in single digits this season, on 3-11 shooting.
Draymond Green had only six points, six rebounds, and six assists.
This was a game the Rockets desperately needed to win. Their energy and intensity reflected it, and their production followed.
Ultimately, the Warriors accomplished their early mission, taking one game in Houston before returning to Oracle Arena, where they have been virtually unbeatable.
Game 3 is Sunday at 5 pm.