Following Golden State’s 115-109 victory over the Rockets in Game 2, they are now in the driver’s seat with a 2-0 series lead.
It is time to bring out all the clichés. Golden State did what they were supposed to do in the first two games against the Houston Rockets; a team wins the series when they win four games not the first two; we have to take the series one game at a time, but ultimately for the Rockets, they just have to flat-out play better.
The rematch that Houston has been talking about since the buzzer sounded to end Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals has to this point been disappointing and it has not been because Golden State is head and shoulders better than the Rockets.
The series has been disappointing because Houston has had great opportunities to steal both of the games in Oakland, yet Houston is down 0-2 and now face two must-win games on both Saturday and Monday night at the Toyota Center.
In Game 1, the controversy of the referees missing shooting fouls on three-point attempts dominated the headlines, but the Rockets also shot a terrible 14/47 (29.8%) on three-point field-goals; Clint Capela had a measly four points; P.J. Tucker went scoreless, and Houston’s bench only had 17 points while eight of them came from the 36-year-old center, Nene.
In Game 2, the officiating was good, P.J. Tucker had 13 points while shooting 60% on threes, Austin Rivers contributed a much-needed 14 points and stellar perimeter defense, and the Rockets as a whole shot 17/40 from three (42.5%). The problem was that Golden State had 18 offensive rebounds and Houston had 17 turnovers.
The offensive rebounds and turnovers combined gifted Golden State 35 extra opportunities at shots, and Golden State is too talented to gift them this many opportunities.
All that being said, both games finished with the Rockets being within one possession of the Warriors in the last final five minutes of the game, and both games ended in single-digit wins for the Warriors.
Had the Rockets just played at an average level to start Game 2, they would have been in yet another great opportunity to steal one at Oracle. Houston started the game with six turnovers in the first three minutes and 13 seconds of the game which forced the Rockets to play catch-up all night long.
The Rockets must now win four out of the next five games from the defending champions. The last time Golden State lost four out of five in the postseason came in the 2016 NBA Finals which was before the team got Durant.
Three of those games will be at the Toyota Center, so it is not impossible, but certainly does not seem likely, however, these Rockets can still pull it off.
Capela must improve
In order for the comeback to start, Clint Capela must be better.
The Rockets cannot have Clint Capela be outplayed by Nene in this series and expect to win.
Capela must either improve or the Rockets have to make a tough decision about an adjustment.
That adjustment could be moving P.J. Tucker to the “center” slot and go with the “Tuckwagon lineup.” In 13 minutes of action together, this lineup has been +13 for the Rockets while having a net rating of 35.7 and having a spectacular defensive rating of 87.9.
As for the offensive rebounds, the size has not been a determining factor as Golden State has consistently stuck with their “Hampton’s Five” lineup, yet they have killed Houston on the boards.
In order to improve the rebounding, Houston must do it as a team. There were many instances where the guards for the Warriors were the ones getting the offensive boards, such as the back-to-back putback dunks from Warriors guard Alfonzo McKinnie early in the game.
Chris Paul must also be most aggressive. Paul is averaging 17.5 points in this series but is only averaging 11.5 field-goal attempts per game. Paul needs to be shooting more to relieve Harden of the offensive load but to also keep the Warriors defense off-balance.
So far Golden State has been content with trapping Harden off of screens and making him have to beat them with one-on-one moves with less than five seconds in the shot clock to make those moves.
Lastly, the Rockets backup-forwards must play better. Danuel House and Iman Shumpert have had almost no impact in this series and Gerald Green is a big defensive liability to play consistent minutes as the Warriors always look for Green on offense and attack him.
All things considered, the story of this Rockets season has been their resiliency. They have battled through an 11-14 start and huge injuries to get back to this point. Now they must overcome a 2-0 deficit.
Houston has yet to play well and has been within striking distance in both games. The Rockets must not let the aurora of the Warriors intimidate them. It starts with Game 3, they cannot afford a letdown as they did in the 2015 Western Conference Finals. These are different teams, but the same situation has arisen. It is up to the Rockets to answer the call.