After watching his team cede home-court advantage to the Golden State Warriors in a stilted and stunted Game 1 performance, head coach Mike D’Antoni maintained that his Houston Rockets didn’t need to completely change things in search of a Western Conference finals-leveling win in Wednesday’s Game 2.
“We are who we are, and we’re pretty good at it,” he told reporters. “We can’t get off who we are. Just be better of who we are.”
As adjustments go, “just be better” isn’t exactly the most tactically savory button to push. But when the dudes on the bench actually put it into practice, it can be pretty damn effective.
The Rockets might not have totally overhauled their identity in two days, but they did play a different brand of basketball on Wednesday night, playing with a level of force, pace and defensive intensity that they rarely sniffed in Game 1. The result: significantly improved ball and player movement, cranked-up playmaking and more confident shooting, and absolute domination of the defending NBA champions. The Rockets rampaged to a 127-105 blowout that evened the series at one win apiece before the scene shifts to Oakland for Game 3 at Oracle Arena on Sunday night.
Eric Gordon hit two 3-pointers right after checking into the game in the first quarter and never looked back, scoring 27 points (8-for-15 from the field, 6-for-9 from 3-point land) in 37 minutes off the bench. Defensive stalwart P.J. Tucker, who missed all three shots he took in Game 1, found his touch from the corners on Wednesday, drilling five of his six deep tries and eight of nine overall to score a career-playoff-high 22 points, along with seven rebounds, four assists and a steal in a commanding two-way performance:
Trevor Ariza shook off a foul-trouble-filled Game 1 to make his presence felt, too. The veteran swingman added 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting with six assists, four rebounds and two steals for the Rockets, who shot 51.1 percent from the floor as a team, made 16 of their 42 3-point tries, and flat-out outplayed the Warriors from virtually the opening tip.
Houston led for the final 39 minutes of game time, by double figures for the final 29, and by as many as 29 during a fourth-quarter barrage that forced the Warriors to yield, empty the bench and start thinking about how to get back on track after a long flight home.
evin Durant remained the question for which Houston has no answer, scoring a game-high 38 points on 13-for-22 shooting to carry the Warriors on Wednesday. But the rest of Golden State’s All-Star-studded roster came up damn near empty in Game 2.
With the exception of his drives against Rockets big man Clint Capela on switches, Stephen Curry struggled mightily to get anything going on offense, needing 19 shots to score 17 points and not making a 3-pointer until a minute into the fourth quarter. Klay Thompson saw those wide-open 3s he’d nailed in Game 1 dry up thanks to more attentive Houston switching and more determined transition defense; he managed just eight points on 3-for-11 shooting, his lowest scoring output in nearly four months.
Draymond Green was sloppy and disjointed from the start, turning down layups and coughing the ball up, finishing with a quiet six points, six rebounds, six assists, two steals, two blocks and four turnovers in 37 minutes. The much-ballyhooed Hamptons Five lineup, the one that dominated the Cavaliers in the 2017 Finals and walloped the Pelicans last round, has been outscored by 16 points in 39 minutes over two games against Houston.
With nobody but Durant able to generate good looks and cash them in, the Warriors in Game 2 became a slowed-down, predictable, one-and-done half-court offense. And with Golden State misfiring and not busting it back in transition, Houston became the team pushing the ball down the court, running the lanes, and getting clean look after clean look, with everybody in a Rockets uniform empowered to fire at will. The effect was jarring.