Two very close games that could have gone either way, but the Houston Rockets find themselves trailing 2-0, now back at home, hoping to find someway of unsettling the Golden State Warriors and especially Stephen Curry, who is playing just like you’d expect from an MVP.
The Warriors don’t have finals experience, but it doesn’t matter. When you’re good, you’re good. And this series with the Rockets shows that they’re a special team. They build big leads and almost lose them, but don’t lose the game. They have dominant stretches right on time to close out games, and make the big plays. It’s more than analytics or tactics can explain. The players, formed into a fantastic unit by Steve Kerr, simply make the right decisions at the right time with the game on the line.
It sure helps when James Harden walks right into a trap. Maybe it was Harden’s mistake for not passing quickly enough to Dwight Howard, making his way to the basket unchecked. Maybe it was Howard’s fault for passing the ball back to James Harden who was walking into pressure. Too many times the Rockets blow plays by passing too strongly or making similar mistakes. Foundations, things that shouldn’t be a problem at this level, more than anything, are hurting the Rockets in two games where they’ve matched up the best team in the league.
Dwight Howard had a big game in the 99-98 loss, scoring 19 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. His knee still isn’t fine, but it’s going to take something a lot more serious to keep him away from the most important game of this series. Even without the conference finals being at 0-2 situation, game 3 is usually regarded as the one that tips the scales in a certain direction. Falling behind three games is a blow no one recovers from; not in the NBA.
Josh Smith has to be more responsible with his shooting. If he gets open shots, so be it, but trying to play like he can make contested jumpers from every distance means he has let the compliments and starting role go to his head. The Rockets, like the Warriors, rely heavily on shooting 3’s, but it has to be in the right way, and not just jacking it up from everywhere.
The Warriors are getting help from officials, but things might be different in Houston. Harden might start to take more trips to the line, and the Warrior’s hard play, going for the steal almost every time instead of standing firm, could backfire on them. Steve Kerr has addressed the problem which has also resulted in turnovers, saying his players need to do a better job of making the distinction between making the simple play and playing as hard as you can.
For neutral fans, who want this series to last a little bit longer, Houston has to win in game 3. James Harden is doing enough. He and Curry are almost cancelling each other out. But when it comes to the plays in crunch time, Curry has the edge right now. Which means either Harden needs to shake himself up, or simply get a little bit more help from some underperforming assistants.